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Bird of Prey

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Chapter One: Meeting the Inquisitor

Skyhold stood as a welcome sight against the backdrop of winter’s cold; its majestic standards caught high in the late afternoon breeze. It had been a long ride from Denerim after an even longer sea voyage. The cloaked rider directed the travel weary horse to the stables, knowing full well his contact would have been watching and they’d meet up shortly. A smirk crossed the rider’s face, desiring only in that moment a warm bath and a cold drink. Simple pleasures meant the most these days and were in the shortest supply.

The rider turned as the volume of chatter through the grounds increased. A ruddy faced dwarf pushed his way through the craftsman, merchants, agents and followers of the Inquisition. He made a beeline to the stables. Removing the hood of his cloak, the rider revealed his face, eliciting a happy cry of welcome from the dwarf. “Andraste’s ass, it’s about time you arrived. I’ve been waiting for weeks.”

His newly arrived guest cracked a wide grin, laying on his characteristic snark, “A fine hello to you, Varric. It’s so nice to see you, too. How dare I inconvenience you by making you wait for me? How ya been?”

“Alright, Hawke. I guess I had that coming,” Varric chuckled.

“I left Llomeryn as soon as I received your message. Oh, Isabela told me to tell you she misses your chest hair,” Rayvin Hawke laughed.

“Be still my heart. I told ya women can’t get enough of my chest hair, but it’s still not to be. I’m taken,” Varric replied, his grin growing ever larger.  “How is Rivaini?”

“Isabela is… well, let’s just say, she’ll never change and let’s leave it at that. But she was there for me when I needed a place to go, ya know, after Anders ... Maker’s breath.” Hawke rubbed his face, choking down the lump in his throat as he thought of the loss of his lover. Silence fell so swiftly that the sound of a pin dropping might have produced an ear deafening explosion. The stark change in expression on Hawke’s spoke volumes, especially in that moment when words utterly failed him. His beating of his heart increased, like staccato beating of drums, pounding within his ears. Panic and anxiety gripped every fiber of his being. Sweat beads broke out on his forehead, his upper lip. And for a split second he was back in that moment, helpless, powerless, to stop a man he once called friend from taking the only thing he had left.

“You doin’ okay, Hawke? You wanna get a drink and talk about it? You know I’m here for you.” Varric flashed a concerned look up at his best friend of nearly ten years. He’d been there in the Deep Roads with Hawke when Hawke’s little sister, Bethany contracted the Blight sickness, when Hawke was forced to put her to the knife to relieve her suffering. He’d been there when they’d found Hawke’s mother, Leandra, in the Kirkwall Killer’s lair, a horrible zombie creation. He’d watched Leandra die in Hawke’s arms. He knew Hawke’s younger brother, Carver, who was Bethany’s twin, had been killed by an Ogre during the escape from Lothering during the Fifth Blight. Hawke had seen so much death, had lost his whole family, to lose Anders after everything, Varric couldn’t even guess what Hawke was feeling. He wasn’t so blind that he couldn’t see the grief that Hawke was trying so hard to hide, how broken he truly was.

“Drinks would be great. First though, I need to clean up some. I do have a certain reputation to maintain.” Hawke chuckled as he regained control over his emotions, burying it beneath humor once more. He followed Varric to the tower room the Inquisitor had made available to Hawke upon his arrival.

“Here’s the room. I told Inquisitor Trevelyan when you got here you’d meet him on the battlements. I’ll have one of the servants bring you in a tub and some hot water.”

“Thanks, Varric.”

“No problem.” The dwarf turned to walk away. “Look, it’s good to see you and I’m glad you’re here. Bianca’s missed you.”

A smile graced Hawke’s lips, though it didn’t quite reach his dark blue eyes, “Same here. It’s good to see you, too. It hasn’t been the same without my trusty dwarf at my side. Truth be told, I find it surprising that you’ve stuck around this long. When were you ever one for a religious calling?”

Varric scoffed, “You don’t know the half of it yet, Hawke. This is the ass end of Thedas. You know they eat snails here? There was only so much I could tell in the information I was sending you. I told you about the attack on Haven, that it was Corypheus, right? That he came after the Inquisitor because of the Anchor. Here’s the kicker, the part I didn’t tell you. There was red lyrium at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. His red Templars are spreading it. And remember Samson, that washed up has been begging on the streets of Kirkwall for his next fix. He’s Corypheus’ General.  The Inquisitor just got back from the Emerald Graves a couple days ago and I hear he found information on the smugglers working for Samson to move this shit. That really blows a hole in my theory that red lyrium at the Temple of Sacred Ashes was a coincidence.”

“Well, shit, sounds like you’ve been busy, Varric. Of course, that’s makes two of us. My friend in the Wardens sent me some information. He’s back in Ferelden and would like to meet with the Inquisitor. I know where he’ll be. So whenever he wants to head that way, I can lead the way.”

“Just like old times. Hope you plan on me tagging along,” Varric quipped.

A chuckle escaped Hawke’s lips, “Could I really stop you?”

Varric strutted away, whistling a happy tune, leaving Hawke to settle in for the time being. The tower room was fairly large, and furnished with an Orlesian style bed, dresser with ceramic wash basin, armor and weapon stands and a writing desk with chair. Thick dark green rugs covered the flagstone floor.  Such fine appointments brought back memories of the Hawke Estate in Kirkwall, of leaving it all behind to live on the run with Anders. An ache pierced his heart anew at the memory of his loss. This wasn’t the right time to fall apart. He tried to tell himself that often. His love wouldn’t have wanted him to suffer so, but he couldn’t let go. Anders was the one loss he couldn’t lay to rest.

***

Once Rayvin had indulged in a hot, leisurely bath, he took the time to clean and oil his Champion’s Armor. Afterwards he cleaned and sharpened the Champion’s Warblade he had for years. That greatsword was a part of him, almost an extension of his own body. The blade and the armor were commissioned for him by city leaders after his defeat of the Arishok; one of few good things to come from the mess of the Qunari invasion of Kirkwall. He hated the giant statue towering over the docks. It made the victory feel hollow when presented as a victory by all, when in reality he alone was the only one who could have brought that end.

Rayvin had respected the Qunari leader; had felt respect reciprocated. In the aftermath of the Arishok’s death, despite being declared Champion, Knight-Commander Meredith had raged at him for engaging the Arishok in battle, for not waiting on her. She should have been the one to defeat the heathen who dared to assault the good people of Kirkwall. To counter the new power of the Champion, she declared she would be taking control of the Viscount’s seat until such a time a suitable replacement could be found. That would not come to pass, though. Anders/Justice destroyed the Chantry and set into motion events that lead him up to this moment.

There were moments in his life he felt it important to make a lasting impression. This was one of those. The Inquisitor, who had been labeled the Herald of Andraste for what happened at the Temple of Sacred Ashes, was a nobleman. He had come from Ostwick and was the youngest son of Bann Trevelyan. From what Rayvin had heard, the Inquisitor was very modest in his claims that he had had been saved by Andraste. He had gone as far as to welcome the rebel mages from Redcliffe as allies much to the dismay of some of his advisors and believed as Anders had that there was a better way than the Circles, and yet the faithful flocked to the Inquisition in droves. He was a symbol, a shining beacon. And he was seeking Hawke’s counsel on everything he knew about Corypheus.

Hawke left his long black hair hanging loosely over his shoulders, trimmed his goatee and finally reapplied his signature blood swipe war-paint across the bridge of his nose. Then he strapped his sword to his back. His overall appearance screamed intimidation, though anyone who truly knew Rayvin knew he was more likely to heckle someone first. He only used the fierceness of his appearance in moments when push came to shove. When the knock sounded at his door, he knew it was time.

Exiting the tower, he made his way down a few steps to the battlements overlooking Skyhold’s courtyard. Varric was waiting for him alongside a striking male human.

The first thing about him that captured his gaze was his eyes. They were pale blue and lined with kohl. His blond undercut was short and from the stubble on his jaw it looked like he hadn’t shaved in a few days. A jagged scar bisected the right side of his face, above his brow and below his eye. He was lucky he didn’t lose the eye. That would have been a shame. An intricate tattoo covered his throat.

The Inquisitor noticed Hawke’s slow perusal of him, sizing him up. This man was a living legend. He had earned his title when he defeated the Arishok in a duel to the death. He knew most stories about the Champion had been blown out of proportion, especially the ones told by Varric, but that didn’t stop him from feeling a tad bit giddy. He grinned at both Varric and Hawke, “So are we here to drink or what? You brought the good stuff, right, Varric?”

A loud guffaw left Varric’s lips, “As if I would bring anything but. You wound me, Trevelyan.” Varric poured the drinks in silver goblets then passed one to Hawke and the Inquisitor. “Inquisitor Trevelyan, meet Rayvin Hawke, The Champion of Kirkwall.”

Rayvin raised his goblet at Varric for the fine introduction, “Champion, schmampion… I don’t use that title much anymore. Only when I want to impress the ladies.” He downed his drink in one swallow and held it out to Varric for more.

“That’s one thing you were always good at doing. You always did know how to make an impression.” Varric grinned mischievously, “Hawke, the Inquisitor, known to us as Aedan Trevelyan. You know why you’re here. I figured you might have some friendly advice about Corypheus. You and I did fight him after all.”

Rayvin let his thoughts linger back to the fiasco at the Warden’s fortress hidden in the Vimmarks. If only they’d left well enough alone, but the Carta never left well enough alone. He set the goblet aside and leaned over the battlement. He gazed out across Skyhold, lost in his own thoughts for a moment. Corypheus had been dead at the end of that battle. He had made sure of it. He didn’t understand how the ancient magister was up and walking again. “You’ve already dropped half a mountain on the bastard. I’m sure anything I can tell you pales in comparison.”

Trevelyan took a seat on the battlement beside Rayvin. He flashed a genuine smile, knowing he needed to gain Hawke’s trust. “I’ve heard the stories about you and have read Varric’s book. Coincidentally enough, I believe we’ve met before. You probably don’t remember. It was in Kirkwall, a party at the Reinhardt estate. If I recall that night correctly you were trying to hide from Lady Eva most of the night.”

“Andraste’s ass, that woman was persistent. My mother kept trying to play matchmaker for me. It didn’t matter that Anders had already moved into my estate.” Hawke flashed a lopsided grin. “The one thing about those parties that I do remember is that I drank a lot and usually made my mother very angry, but I can’t say I remember you. Sorry.”

“Completely understandable, Champion,” Trevelyan nodded. “It was one of the things I liked least about being a noble. Fortunately for me being the youngest and least likely to be my father’s heir, I didn’t always have to attend the parties. My destiny was supposed to be joining the Chantry, becoming a scholar.”

Hawke chuckled low in his throat and drained his goblet, “Lucky you. My mother wanted grandchildren and as her last living child, she expected me to give them to her. Sadly, I turned out to be a disappointment.” A grimace crossed his face. “But that’s not why I’m here.”

“True enough. I didn’t mean to distract from the matter at hand. Everything you accomplished… I don’t want it to sound like I’m in awe, but you did save a city from a horde of rampaging Qunari.”

“I don’t see how that really applies. Or is there a horde of rampaging Qunari I don’t know about?” Hawke quipped. He really didn’t want to deal with ‘hero worship.’ Not from someone like the Inquisitor.

Trevelyan’s eyes gleamed, alight with fire and mischief and offered a saucy wink. Rayvin chuckled, unsure if the Inquisitor was flirting or what. “There’s The Iron Bull, a mindless instrument of destruction. Fortunately, he’s on our side.”

“Does Tiny know you call him that, Your Inquisitorialness?” Varric wiggled his eyebrows as he poured them all another drink.

“Just repeating what he calls himself.” Trevelyan smiled, arching a sly brow.

The dwarf pursed his lips then he snorted. “And what else do you call him? I seem to recall you leaving his tent late one night. Just sayin’.”

Blue eyes flashed insolently. “There is nothing going on between myself and Iron Bull. I find myself partial to Dorian or Cullen, but not Bull.”

“I stand corrected,” Varric held his hands up as a lopsided grin crossed his face.

“You do realize you’ve given him fodder for his stories, right?” Rayvin held out his goblet for another refill, “Answer me this, Varric. Just how often did you and Isabela snoop at the estate for juicy tidbits involving me and Anders? All the smutty friend-fiction… you are so lucky Aveline didn’t jail you for the ones about her and Donnic.”

Varric smirked, “Is it my fault you and Blondie provided such excellent fodder for those stories? I didn’t have to do much. Those stories practically wrote themselves.”

“With Isabela’s help,” Rayvin added. He set his goblet aside. “Maker, I miss him.”

Varric rested his hand on Rayvin’s shoulder, “You wanna talk about it… later?”

The former Champion gave a slight nod of his head. Now was not the time to open that sack of cats. He sighed, rubbing his face, “So then, Corypheus, that’s why I came all this way. To help in any way I can. What can I tell you?”

Trevelyan pushed off away from the battlement. “I have many questions. Some you may not wish to answer. I am the Inquisitor after all.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest, “There are things we need to know and you may be the only person to provide what we need. I’ll try not to pry too much. First off, where have you been all this time? And where is Anders?”

Rayvin exhaled loudly. He knew that question was coming. He had wanted to talk to Varric about it all first in detail before letting anyone else know. Of course he would ask the tough questions, the ones that hurt the most. He rubbed the back to his neck, “I respect what you’ve done here, Inquisitor, but the answer to that question cannot be given out here in the open like this. Too many ears. I would prefer to have that discussion in private.”

Trevelyan nodded, “Understood. Varric has often implied as much when it came to the subject of him. We can meet in my private quarters or in the war room. Your choice. As for Corypheus, Varric claimed that you had fought him before.”

A sneer crossed Rayvin’s face, “Fought and killed. The Grey Wardens were holding him, and he somehow used his connection to the darkspawn to influence them.”

“Corypheus got into their heads. Messed with their minds. Turned them against each other. In doing so he managed to take control of a whole Carta clan, made them drink darkspawn blood,” added Varric.

“If the Wardens have disappeared they could have fallen under his control again,” Rayvin surmised.

Trevelyan cocked an eyebrow and tapped his foot, “You’re giving me maybes. I need proof.”

“Then let’s get you some,” he said. “I’ve got a friend in the Wardens. He was investigating something unrelated for me. His name is Alistair. The last time we spoke, he was worried about corruption in the Warden ranks. Since then, nothing.”

Varric watched as Hawke paced to and fro, noticing the little quirks his long time friend had developed. Hawke had changed. Most people wouldn’t pick up on the difference, but few people knew the Champion as Varric did. “Corypheus would certainly qualify as corruption in the ranks. Did Alistair disappear with them?”

“No, he’s been hiding out in an old smuggler’s cave near Crestwood.” Rayvin replied, cocking an eyebrow at the Inquisitor. “That’s close to the Storm Coast in Ferelden. He told me it’s like old times again, back when he and my cousin, Rihanna, were fighting the Blight.”

Trevelyan’s brow furrowed, his eyes glinting with curiosity, “Cousin?”

“Rihanna Amell…the Hero of Ferelden,” Hawke replied. “She’s my second cousin on my mother’s side.”

“I have heard both Leliana and Cullen speak of the Hero of Ferelden. They both knew her. I hadn’t realized you were related.” Recognition dawned on Trevelyan’s face. He pursed his lips as his brows bumped together. There were questions he wanted – no, needed – to ask, but he wasn’t sure just how Hawke would react to them. Best to get them out in the open. He made a small ‘huhm’ noise, “You had no idea Corypheus had somehow resurrected himself after you killed him, correct? If that’s the case, what were you doing with the Wardens? You obviously didn’t join their ranks to avoid being executed for your part in the mage rebellion.”

Deep blue eyes glared at Trevelyan full bore, “And who would be the one to execute me? You… oh great and powerful Herald of Andraste? The Divine? The Templars? What exactly is my crime? Protecting innocent mages from a madwoman? The Grand Cleric of Kirkwall wouldn’t lift a finger to do anything about what was happening in The Gallows. Harrowed mages were being made Tranquil. That is against Chantry law, but Knight Commander Meredith used the brand with impunity. I knew what Anders was doing and aided him every step of the way. He didn’t want any of the blame to fall on me, but I had to protect him as long as I could. I just never thought the Prince of Starkhaven would make good on his threats.”

Varric, who had been quiet up until this point, let out a curse. He had thought Anders had been with Hawke the whole time, “Andraste’s ass.”

Rayvin cast a sideways glance at Varric before turning his attention back to Trevelyan. “You asked what happened to my lover. We were caught by the fucking Prince of Starkhaven. He had an army with him. I fought until I could no longer stand up. He dragged us back to Starkhaven in chains where he could take his vengeance on Anders. That bastard kept me under lock and key while he provoked Justice into coming out time and again. They tortured him, the things those men did to him , and I couldn’t do a damn thing to stop it. Once Sebastian had finally broken him, he executed him and made me watch. Every bloody bit of it. I had once called Sebastian a friend, but that all changed. When it was all over he asked me how it felt to have the one thing that meant the most taken from me so violently. Elthina’s death was quick. I doubt she even knew what happened. Anders suffered horribly. Before Sebastian let me go he told me that he left me alive so I would bear the guilt and burden of Anders’ death just as he had Elthina’s. He called it merciful. There was nothing merciful about what that bastard did.”

“Maker’s balls,” Varric cursed, shocked at his friend’s confession. He’d known Blondie’s death had hit Hawke hard, worse than all the loss of his family, but this… He didn’t know that Sebastian had been involved. He muttered a string of blasphemous curses and handed Hawke the entire bottle of wine.

Rayvin took a long draw, washing away the bitterness from his mouth. His glaring visage towards Trevelyan had not ceased. Rayvin watched as Trevelyan rubbed his face, but he wasn’t finished, not yet. “You didn’t expect that story, did you? You figured I had hid Anders somewhere while I came to deal with this. You think we caused the mage rebellion just to see the world burn. No, it was never like that. What happened at Kirkwall was merely the beginning, but we didn’t have anything to do with what happened at the White Spire in Val Royeaux or Grand Enchanter Fiona’s vote that ultimately lead to the Conclave.” Rayvin stared the Inquisitor down, his eyes flashing. “One thing I have learned, though. Change rarely comes peacefully and it is feared. Anders knew that. He wanted a world where mages could be free. I supported his vision. I grew up in a mage household. Both my father and younger sister had the gift. He wasn’t the monster that the stories make him out to be. He just wanted to live like any other mundane person did. Justice complicated that.”

“Regardless of what you may think of me, I am not your enemy and I am sorry for what happened to him, for your loss. No one should have to go through that. We had gotten word that Prince Vael had invaded Kirkwall. He petitioned the Inquisition for help, but we declined and bolstered the ranks of Guard Captain Aveline’s defense, thus thwarting his ability to do further damage.” Trevelyan glanced at him with sympathetic eyes. Hawke’s confession had moved him. No one should have to go through what Hawke had. To witness the torture and death of the one you love. “I support mage freedom and mage rights, too, but I know not every mage is strong enough to resist temptation. There has to be safeguards in places, and other mages willing to teach them how to use their gift properly.”

“Anders would have agreed. He hated blood magic, was vehemently against it. Maybe the world will never see him as I did. A light was snuffed out when he died and the world is poorer for it. That’s all I will say about him.” Hawke folded his arms across his chest, resting against the battlement once more. He eyed Trevelyan speculatively. “It surprises me that the Inquisition supports mage freedom, especially considering the Commander of your forces was a Templar. I bet Cullen loved it that when you brought them in as allies. Which begs the question, why do you support mages?”

“Like you, I have a sibling who is a mage.” Trevelyan sighed. “Well, was… she was a few years older than me. Initially she was sent to the Ostwick Circle, but then she was transferred to Kirkwall. She was made tranquil and she died under suspicious circumstances. Even my father was never able to find out much information about what happened to her. All we know is that a Templar named Ser Otto Alrik was involved.”

“If Alrik had anything to do with her death, then you are better off not knowing. He was a sadistic bastard. I know. I killed him.” Hawke’s lip curled in disgust. “Couldn’t Cullen provide any information or did he not know?”

Trevelyan shook his head. “Given when it happened it was before he was transferred to Kirkwall. We can finish this later. That should give you and Varric some time to talk. And just so you know, I certainly didn’t mean to antagonize you.”

Hawke shook his head, “You didn’t know, Inquisitor. You haven’t been the first to react in this manner and you won’t be the last. Tomorrow is another day. I’ll come to your war room, speak to you and your advisors. However, the topic of Anders is off-limits.”

“Agreed.”

“So Varric, where’s the tavern? I need a stiffer drink than whatever this was,” Hawke quipped as he sent the empty wine bottle flying over the fortress walls.

“Ask Iron Bull for some Maraas Lok. I guarantee you won’t be feeling anything after a couple of pints,” Trevelyan suggested before he strolled away.

Varric let out a loud chuckle, “Just like old times. Say, you up for a game of Wicked Game?”

***

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: Catching Up

For the most part the atmosphere inside Skyhold’s tavern, the Herald’s Rest, reminded Rayvin of The Hanged Man. Sure, it was a hell of a lot cleaner, and while it lacked that special bouquet of vomit, despair, cheap swill and stale piss that the Hanged Man had in spades, it made up for it in having an impressive selection of alcohol. The dwarf behind the bar, Cabot, waved them over as they entered.

“You’re a damn good man, Champion… for a human! First drink is on the house!” He slid two pints across the bar before serving his next customer.

Rayvin lifted a brow at Varric, “Still paying off the bartender?”

“You think I had something to do with that. Ever think maybe you shouldn’t wear armor that screams I’m the Champion when you’re trying to lay low, just like Broody and his spiked get-up that screamed I was a slave. I hate you all.” He threw his hands up in the air and pinned a mock glower at Hawke. “Let’s go over here. I think Tiny’s drinking with his Chargers. He’ll have some good stuff, always does.”

Ah, Varric and his nicknames. He’d missed that. He missed the gang. He missed nights at the Hanged Man playing Wicked Grace. And most of all, he missed Anders.  

“Everything about Fenris screamed I was a slave. I hate you all. Not just the armor,” Rayvin let out a soft chuckle.

Following the dwarf past the stairs, they came to a clustered group of tables. Sitting in the midst of them was one of the largest Qunari males he’d ever seen. The Iron Bull, he presumed. Or Tiny as Varric dubbed him. His pale grey skin was covered in a multitude of scars, suggesting a lifetime of battle. To the casual eye he seemed very much at ease, but Rayvin knew the big horned warrior was ever alert for any threat. Varric had let slip that in one of the messages he’d sent that an agent of the Ben-Hassrath numbered among the Inquisitor’s inner circle. It was a heads up, especially after what happened with Tallis. Or perhaps because of. This had to be him.

The Iron Bull noticed their approach, “Pull up a chair, Varric. We were about break open a cask and start a game of Wicked Grace.” He flicked his gaze surreptitiously over Hawke as he lounged back lazily in his chair. It had been whispered that the Champion planned to join forces with the Inquisition.

“Deal us in, Tiny. I’m always happy to win more of your coin,” Varric said with a roguish grin. The dwarf seated himself in an empty chair while Rayvin grabbed one nearby. The Champion removed his greatsword from his back, and leaned it against the table.

Bull raised an eyebrow, “You expecting to be attacked?”

“It’s been known to happen,” Rayvin laughed heartily then turned to Varric. “How many fights happened in the Hanged Man? A dozen?”

“Give or take,” Varric agreed.

Bull rose to his full height, reaching for the blade. He picked it up, gripping the pommel in one massive hand. “Nice weapon. Did you fight the Arishok with this?”

The Champion chuckled, “Unfortunately no. The Champion’s Armor and Warblade were commissioned after the fact. I wish I’d had that blade then. Would’ve made the battle easier.  It was one of the toughest I’ve ever fought.”

“You’ve fought tougher battles?” Bull handed the sword back.

“Oh a few. The Battle of Ostagar. Corypheus.  The Prince of Starkhaven’s fucking army,” Rayvin scoffed.  “The Inquisitor said if I wanted to forget who I was to ask you for the Maraas Lok.”

Iron Bull bellowed out a laugh, and reached for a keg. He poured both Varric and Hawke a pint. “Here, put some chest on your chest.”

“Varric doesn’t need any more chest,” Rayvin quipped as he knocked back a big gulp and immediately felt his throat seize up. He coughed as fire consumed every nerve in his throat, “Fuck!”

The big Qunari erupted in laughter. “A few pints and you won’t remember your name.”

Hawke chuckled, taking another drink, “Now you’re talkin’. Here’s to forgetting your fucking name.”

“I’m surprised you’d drink with a Qunari,” a dark haired male spoke up from the other side of the Iron Bull.

Hawke sat down his tankard, glaring at the young man. “Why do you say that?”

“You earned your title defeating the Arishok.”

“How ‘bout you get the facts straight before you speak out of turn? I respected the Arishok. That respect was mutual. That fight happened because I refused to hand Isabela over to him after she returned the tome she ran off with.” Rayvin pinned a fierce look upon the young man.

“Watch the backtalk, Krem de la crème. We’re all friendly here.” Iron Bull said as he shuffled the cards.

“Dealer starts. Since we have a special guest, how ‘bout we raise the stakes tonight?”

“I propose we play for stories and use markers for bets. Whoever has the most markers takes this,” Rayvin pulled a coin purse from inside of his armor and dropped it in the middle of the table. It landed with a heavy clink. Several of the patrons stopped what they were doing to stare. “One hundred royals.”

“You’re on!”

Varric cracked his knuckles, grinning like a mad nug, “Always happy to win more of your coin, O Champion. Deal ‘em, Tiny!”

Bull shuffled the cards, dealing them around the table to himself, Varric, Rayvin, and Krem, until each player had four cards. The Qunari warrior threw in three markers, discarded and drew two new cards. “Your bet, Varric.”

“I see your bet and raise it another two,” he said, as he discarded one card and drew a new one.

Rayvin finished off the drink Cabot had served him and picked up his cards. He had three Knights and a Serpent. When a barmaid came around, he ordered another round. His next move was to raise the bet another five. He discarded the Serpent card and drew one. “Have you heard from Fenris since the Seeker dragged you away from Kirkwall?”

“He was hunting slavers, but I don’t know where he is now. I’ll write to Aveline and ask if he’s returned to Kirkwall,” Varric replied as they watched Krem make his bet and draw three cards.

“I must be going soft, but I miss that ol’ girl. Like a bad rash. Good to know some things never change.” Rayvin shook his head as it went back to Bull’s turn. Bull tossed in two markers, discarded and drew one new card.

“I’ll tell her you said that,” Varric said as he added three chips to the pot. “Your play, Hawke.”

“Oh, Maker, you must think you have a winning hand,” Rayvin grinned. All he needed was one more Knight. Three more markers joined the growing pot. Hawke discarded a card and drew another. Fortune smiled. The fourth Knight card was his.

“Your move, Krem de la crème,” Bull laughed. The Tevinter mercenary sighed, rolling his eyes. He made his wager, discards and cursed as he drew the Angel of Death from the deck. Having no other Angels in his hand, he threw it down on the table.

“Looks like you’ve become Krem Brulee!” Everyone at the table groaned as Bull erupted in howling laughter.

Rayvin leaned closer to Krem, “Does he always bad touch words like that?”

“All the time, but you get used to it. I’ve been putting up with his bad jokes for years.”

“Time to put up or shut up,” Bull laid out his cards. He had a decent hand of serpents and songs. “Hawke. Varric.”

Varric looked up at Hawke, waiting for him to go first. One by one Rayvin laid the cards out. Varric cursed, tossing his cards down. “Maferath’s Balls, did you pull those out of your ass?”

“Accusing me of cheating?” Rayvin flashed an innocent look, as he scooped the markers into his pile. “It’s just luck, dwarf.”

“Nice hand. The first story is yours.” Bull handed over the cards to Rayvin to deal the next hand. “Tell us about one of your tough battles.”

“I have a better idea,” he said as he got up and walked over to the bard Maryden who was taking a short break. He leaned in, whispered something in her ear and accepted the lute she handed him. When he returned the table, he started to strum until he found the right rhythm. “It’s been a while since I played, not since I was on Isabela’s ship.”

A catchy, melodic sound filled their corner of the tavern, as his fingers took on a life of their own, coaxing notes out of the instrument. Toes tapped in time with the music.

Feel the fire where she walks, /Isabela so beautiful, /Shady and a tempered dame, /Blinding your eyes with her spider dance

Her performance utterly erotic subversive to all ideas, /And for public morality, /And cool as she was she didn't care, /See the sailor throw his gold, /Lifting her skirt howling loud like a wolf, /Hell raising and full of sin, /When Bella was dancing and showing her skin

Wherever she walks, /She'll be captivating all the men, /Don't look in her eyes, /You might fall and find the love of your life heavenly, /But she'll catch you in her web, /The love of your life, yeah.

Feel the fire where she walks, /Isabela so beautiful, /Shady and a tempered dame, /Blinding your eyes with her spider dance

Well notorious I have been, /But never for fame that's what she said, /Dear Varric taste my whip, /Never to see any words you print

Wherever she walks, /She'll be captivating all the men, /Don't look in her eyes, /You might fall and find the love of your life heavenly, /But she'll catch you in her web, /The love of your life, yeah.

Oh Bella I'm sure that the love would have been, /The key to all your pain, /The key to all your pain, /No words will later come, /Did the spider bite your tongue, /We will surely not forget We will surely not forget, /The Bella spider dance

Whoa!

Don't look in her eyes, /You might fall and find the love of your life heavenly, /But she'll catch you in her web, /The love of your life, yeah…” Rayvin returned the lute to Maryden once he’d finished, grinning like a hatter at Varric who stared at him utterly speechless. The rest of the tavern broke out in a resounding ovation, cheering, whistling and clapping.

The dwarf continued giving Rayvin the hairy eyeball, “Andraste’s ass, what did I do? A whip? Little harsh wouldn’t you say?”

“Talk to the Rivaini. That was all her,” Hawke said with the audacity to look innocent.

“How is it that I’ve known you for ten years and this is the first time I’ve heard you sing? You’ve been holding out on me.” Varric jabbed a finger against the breastplate of Hawke’s armor.

Rayvin ran his hand through his hair and grinned while shuffling the cards. He dealt four cards to everyone, and placed his wager, “Like I tell you everything. I used to sing to Anders. He said it soothed Justice. I’m surprised Isabela kept it quiet. She found out while I still lived in Lowtown.”

“Rivaini was too busy trying to get in your pants,” Varric rolled his eyes.

Rayvin wiggled his eyebrows, “Try?”

“So the stories about you and her sharing that elf at the Rose were true. Thanks, Hawke. Didn’t need to know that,” Varric grimaced.

“You do know her and Fenris had a fling. She likes elves. Her and Zevran… I’ve never met two people more perfect for each other that refuse to admit it.”

“That’s Rivaini. She’ll never settle down.”

“Did Isabela have a thing for spiders?” Bull rubbed his chin as he took his turn. He had a good hand this time. He drew no new cards, discarded none and raised the pot by three.

Hawke chuckled, “It’s been something of a running joke for as long as I’ve known her. Everyone knows she stole the sacred tome and then she lost it. She would drag me out on these relic hunts, and we’d always end up finding spiders. Big spiders. This one cave we were in, of course had more spiders and big webs. We kept getting stuck in them. She looked like she was dancing trying to get them off her. Looking back on it, it’s funny now, but not so much then.”

The rest of the night passed quickly. Stories were told and the drinks flowed freely. Rayvin won one more hand, but this time elected to tell a story about the time the Crows were after Zevran. Varric won several hands. Krem managed one, but the big winner of the night was Bull.

The big warrior grinned, grabbing up the coin purse, “Ben-Hassrath, remember? You may think you have no tells, but you’re all easier to read than you think.”

Maryden approached the Champion and leaned over, whispering in his ear, “Would you sing one more song? Most of Skyhold is in the tavern, having heard of your earlier performance.”

Rayvin grinned as he glanced back at the front half of the tavern, “Always happy to oblige my adoring fans.” He followed her around to the usual spot where she performed and pulled up a stool. As he scanned the crowd, he noticed a couple familiar faces. Like he had before, he did some strumming on the lute just to find the notes he needed for the song he had in mind. Maryden joined him with a small drum. He leaned over, whispering the chords and notes he’d be playing if she wanted to accompany him on percussion. “This song is called Behind Blue Eyes.”

No one knows what it's like ,/T o be the bad man ,/T o be the sad man ,/ Behind blue eyes ,/ And no one knows ,/ What it's like to be hated ,/ To be fated,/To telling only lies

But my dreams they aren't as empty ,/ As my conscious seems to be ,/ I have hours, only lonely ,/ My love is vengeance ,/ That's never free

No one knows what it's like ,/ To feel these feelings ,/ Like I do, and I blame you! / No one bites back as hard ,/ On their anger ,/ None of my pain and woe,/Can show through

But my dreams they aren't as empty ,/ As my conscious seems to be , / I have hours, only lonely ,/ My love is vengeance ,/ That's never free

No one knows what it’s like ,/ To be mistreated, to be defeated ,/ Behind blue eyes ,/ No one knows how to say ,/ That they're sorry and don't worry ,/ I'm not telling lies

But my dreams they aren't as empty ,/ As my conscious seems to be ,/ I have hours, only lonely ,/ My love is vengeance ,/ That's never free

No one knows what it's like ,/ To be the bad man ,/ To be the sad man ,/ Behind blue eyes.

Rayvin hopped off the stool, handed the lute back to Maryden and took as bow as the crowd erupted once again in resounding ovation, cheering, whistling and applause. Sister Nightingale broke free of the crowd and sauntered up to him purposefully. He flashed a charming grin at her, wrapping her up in a tight hug. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“Especially since we searched for you, but were not able to locate you. It is good that you are here now, Champion. You make a lasting impression, as always,” Leliana replied, returning the hug then followed him to the bar.

“I aim to please,” he quipped. “Unless you’d searched Isabela’s ship, you wouldn’t have found me. Zevran was there, too. You know him, don’t you? He traveled with Rihanna during the Blight.”

Leliana smiled. “Yes, I know Zevran quite well. It seems like we’ve moved in similar circles, Champion.”

“You met Isabela as well. Also during the Blight.”

“That I did. Rihanna, Zevran and I spent an evening at the Pearl in Denerim together playing Wicked Grace. Poor Rihanna didn’t have a clue how to play the game and ended up losing just about everything she owned to Isabela. She got it all back, after she and Alistair spent the night with Isabela on her ship. Good times. It’ll be nice to see Alistair again. I have missed him so.”

Rayvin grinned, “He said something similar last time I talked to him. That he was looking forward to seeing you again. Varric sent me as much information as he could. You must know nothing you or anyone could have done or said would have convinced me to become your ‘Inquisitor’. I wouldn’t have been a good choice. Not with my views on mage freedom.” He leaned on the bar, signaling Cabot for a drink for himself and Leliana. He placed a few coins on the bar to pay for the drinks once the dwarf had served them.

“You may have found resistance to that idea among the people here, but there are those who share your views. I’ve long felt similar. I’ve known mages. Some of them, like Rihanna, are much better people than me. But I’m free and they’re not. She is free because she’s the Hero of Ferelden, but if she weren’t, she wouldn’t be. I think you give yourself too little credit, Champion.”

“And I know I’d have used the Inquisition as a blunt instrument of power to crush anyone who got in my way. I’d have started an even bigger war than the mage rebellion. I think the Inquisition is in much better hands.” He shook his head and drained the pint of ale.

“Who would you have started this war with? Who has angered the mighty Champion of Kirkwall?” Leliana eyed him speculatively, looking for any cracks in the armor. “Anyone I would know?”

Rayvin looked her in the eyes, “I could lie and say no. Or crack a joke, playing it off as nothing, but you can see right through that. So I won’t dance for you. Sure I’d do everything I could to bring peace, to stop mages from rebelling, but there is no way I’d advocate returning them to their circles, not after Anders and I helped some of them rebel. As for whom I’d go after in between putting Corypheus back where he belongs, that would be Sebastian Vael. And if I had to raze the Free Marches to do, so be it. That is exactly why I would not have been a good choice for your Inquisitor.”

“What did Prince Vael do to you?” Leliana’s gaze on him narrowed, taking in his every move. Every twitch, every blink.

Rayvin rubbed his face, shaking his head at her. “Now is not a good time to discuss what he did.”

She licked her lips, trapping her bottom lip between her teeth, “He took Anders from you, didn’t he?”

“It amazes me you figured that out. If that’s the case. Or did the Inquisitor tell you?” Rayvin asked.

“I’m a spy, Champion. It’s what I do.” Leliana replied honestly.

“Call me Hawke or Rayvin, anything but Champion. I don’t use that title much anymore.” He signaled Cabot for another pint, requesting something stronger than ale this time. “I know you have questions, but I’d rather not discuss Anders. He’s gone, and I can’t bring him back. The world wouldn’t thank me if I did. If there is anything else I can be of help with, just let me know. I told the Inquisitor I’d meet him and his advisors in the morning.”

“Have you any information on the whereabouts of Rihanna Amell?” Leliana asked, knowing full well they were related through his mother’s side.

“According to Alistair, she’s on a personal quest. Once I meet him in Crestwood, I’m sure he’ll be more forthcoming with details. I know he was worried about corruption in the Warden ranks. If Corypheus is involved, then that definitely counts as corruption. He’s been known to get into the heads of Wardens and mess with their minds. I saw it happen at the Warden fortress where he was being held.” Hawke tossed back the shot of Ferelden whiskey and immediately chased it with a pint of Dwarven ale, “Ah, good stuff.”

“It’ll be good to see Alistair again. I had hoped Rihanna would be with him. She knows me better than anyone,” Leliana sighed wistfully. “If she is on this personal quest that must explain why the letters I sent her were not answered.”

Rayvin shrugged, “I’ve never met her. Our mothers were first cousins. Mine ran away to Ferelden with my father, Malcolm Hawke. He was a mage, had been a junior enchanter in the Gallows. I’m told she had four other siblings, all mages. I don’t even know their names or to what circles they were sent, except that none of them were in Kirkwall.”

“Maybe the Inquisition can find that information for you,” she suggested.

“To what end? They don’t know me. They may not even thank me for my part in the mage rebellion. Some things are better left alone, Leliana. I appreciate the offer. It was good talking with you and we’ll talk more in the morning. Right now I am going to join Varric and drink myself to oblivion.” Hawke walked away, returning to his friend.

Leliana watched him walked away. There was much he had left unsaid. It intrigued her and she was looking forward to seeing how it all played out.

***

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: Nightmare

Hawke stumbled out of the tavern with a lighter coin purse, but in much higher spirits. He was infinitely richer for the look on Varric’s face as he sang the ‘Isabela’ song. It had been priceless. The dwarf certainly hadn’t seen that coming. Being asked to sing the second song made him feel good. It brought back memories of Kirkwall when folks asked favors of the Champion. It wasn’t always the ‘fix someone else’s problems’ kind of favor.

Seeing Leliana again had brought some things up that he didn’t want to think about. He’d first met her when she was a lay sister at the Chantry in Lothering, though he never really knew her all that well. Bethany had liked her stories, though. When she’d come to Kirkwall on behalf of Divine Justinia V, he met her alongside Sebastian, Anders and Fenris in the Viscount’s throne room. She’d urged Grand Cleric Elthina to leave, but the stubborn old biddy had refused.

‘I will not leave my flock.’

She had been warned. Despite the fact that he was complicit with Anders’ plan and willingly aided him every step of the way, he did his duty as Champion and relayed the message that Sister Nightingale had sent. Her refusal had doomed her. She had signed her own death warrant when Anders destroyed the Chantry. He felt no pity or remorse for her. His conscience was clear. Why couldn’t Sebastian have understood that?

He felt better than he had in months. Maybe it was the company. Maybe it was the mass quantity of booze he’d consumed. Maybe it was because he wasn’t looking over his shoulder for once. Whatever it was he was glad to have that weight off his shoulders for the moment.

Varric steered him toward the tower room he’d been given for the duration of his stay, helping him ascend the stairs. That nearly proved difficult, as each step seemed to be several feet high and he caught himself lifting his feet to try to climb each. In the end, Varric pushed him up the stairs and into his room. The dwarf grumbled wearily about keeping Hawke away from anymore alcohol.

“Sleep it off,” he said as Hawke collapsed face first onto the large bed. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

***

“I didn’t think you’d be home, love. Isn’t tonight Wicked Grace with Varric?” the blond mage asked as he stepped into the study. He had planned on working on his manifesto since Hawke wouldn’t be at home, but the romantic picnic spread out on the floor suggested he wouldn’t be doing that. Justice grumbled, making his displeasure well known. Anders winced, ignoring the demanding spirit. A wonderful night with his love was what he needed. They hadn’t spent much time together as of late. Hawke’s Champion duties had kept him occupied while Anders often bowed to the demands of Justice. That was in addition to the workload at the clinic and the needs of the Mage Underground.

Hawke leveled a fond glance upon his lover, “Varric will have to do without the pleasure of my – our – company for one night. He can fleece coin off me some other night.” Then he patted the floor beside him. “Join me, love. It’s been a while since we had a night solely to ourselves.”

A warm smile brightened Anders’ tired features. He ignored the strong sense of censure he was receiving from Justice as he took his place at Rayvin’s side. Hawke wasted no time wrapping his arms around Anders, pulling him to his bare chest while his hands worked to remove his clothing and bestowed upon Anders a desperate kiss.

The feathered coat soon found itself tossed across the room followed by the threadbare tunic underneath. His black boots joined the rest of his clothes on the floor. Rayvin recaptured Anders’ lips, bestowing a deep kiss as his hands settled upon the waistband of his trousers. He pushed them down Anders’ slim hips before continuing his ministrations. His mouth slid across his cheek, finding his ear. He teased him, eliciting a shiver from Anders as he nibbled.

Down his neck Rayvin kissed, then nipped gently along the collarbone. Anders let out a soft moan, enjoying the attention Hawke lavished upon him. It had been awhile since they had made love. Anders missed it. He lifted a hand, sliding his fingers into the length of Rayvin’s hair, he directed him downward. Rayvin chuckled before swirling his tongue around a nipple. He teased him, grinning as Anders moaned again, this time even louder.

Rayvin didn’t stop there. He licked his way down Anders’ chest, finding the line of hair between his navel and groin. Anders hardened, a pearl of fluid leaking from the tip of his erection. Rayvin took notice as Anders panted, wasting no time swirling his tongue around the head, tasting him, moaning his appreciation as he took him inside the warm cavity of his mouth. His tongue worked on the head as he wrapped a hand around the base, lightly pumping.

“Hawke…” Anders called out, thrusting his hips up, pushing his cock deeper inside his lover’s mouth.

Rayvin relaxed his throat as he felt the head go in deep. He bobbed up and down, his tongue teasingly flicked to and fro until he reached his lover’s balls, which he gently cupped and rolled, rhythmically squeezing, eliciting another moan from Anders. He sucked on it long and hard, his cheeks hollowed and released with the force of the suction his lips produced. Anders cried out, overwhelmed at the sensation of Rayvin’s hot lips and tongue upon his hardened cock. He began babbling incoherently, words and moans interspersing while his hips strained upward, following the movement of Rayvin's mouth.

He was close. It wouldn’t be long as Rayvin pressed his tongue against his glans and worked that sensitive area on the underside. His lover knew which spots drove him crazy. Anders stiffened and arched, the first rush of his spend bathing the back of Rayvin's throat as he came. He pulled back, wanting the taste, fresh, mild, salty and sweet. Using his lips and tongue, Rayvin massaged Anders’ cock, encouraging the aftershocks, the quivers that tightened Anders’ body and brought more of his flavor to Rayvin’s seeking mouth.

Soon Anders’ cock lost its rigid hardness, and Rayvin, assured he had swallowed every drop, let it slip from his mouth. He rested his head against Anders’ thigh, extending a hand to gently rub his belly and side. His touch was tender, stroking tiny circles with his fingertips. Anders shivered, pulling Rayvin face to face.

“I do not deserve your love,” Anders sighed. “You are far too good to me.”

Rayvin hushed him with a kiss. “You do, love. You’re all I have left and I will spend my life proving it to you. I want you to enjoy this moment. I love you more than anything. Besides this night is hardly over.”

“I think someone is overdressed then,” Anders commented, pushing Rayvin to the floor and straddling his thighs. He pulled on Rayvin’s trousers, carefully sliding them past the erection currently tenting them as a loud crash sounded from the foyer. The rattle of heavy armor followed.

“What the fuck?!” Hawke exclaimed, wiggling out from beneath Anders. He pulled up his pants as the noise level in the house increased, becoming louder as more men poured in.

Anders scrambled for his clothing, though Rayvin swore he could see a hint of Justice shining through. “Who would dare break in here?”

Rayvin didn’t answer as he rushed down the stairs, heading into his foyer. A dozen heavily armored and armed men were in the room with more pouring in through the shattered remnants of his front door. He grabbed his Warblade, readying to strike.

“Go, Anders! I’ll hold them off!”

But it wasn’t Anders that responded. Blue cracks of the Fade burst all over his lover as the spirit within emerged.

“NO!”

Sebastian stood in front of them, his pretty blue eyes alight with an anger so deep, it cut into their own. The Prince of Starkhaven barked sharp orders and Hawke realized that Sebastian had kept his promise - he had, indeed, come back to carry out his revenge.

Justice, however, disregarded the fact that there were armored men with swords drawn surrounding them. He bellowed in anger and strained against four men, his gaze on Sebastian, who smirked at him.

“Bind them and take them away,” the Prince barked to his men.

Anders/Justice screamed in rage, struggling to get away from the binds that held them, away from the men that surrounded him, making it difficult for him to move at all. Sebastian approached him and hit him across the face, his expression smug and his eyes dancing with mirth.

He was enjoying himself far too much.

“You’ve just made the last mistake of the rest of your life, Sebastian,” Hawke said quietly. “I swear to you I will kill you for this.”

Suddenly everything changed. They were in a courtyard in chains. Anders had stopped struggling and his head was bowed. Hawke gasped out as the chains cut into his wrists and neck.

“Anders,” he groaned.

The mage lifted his head, all remnants of Justice gone for the moment. He looked defeated and his eyes were infinitely sad as they stared straight into Rayvin’s. Even though they were across from each other, there was no real distance between them.

Sebastian laughed as he suddenly appeared next to Anders, looking at Hawke with a triumphant expression on his face.  “Did you two honestly think you would escape me?” Sebastian grinned wolfishly, his periwinkle blue eyes fixed on Hawke’s. “I command an army now.”

He turned to Anders, his back to Hawke. Rayvin could see him doing something to his lover, but he didn’t know what. He struggled again in desperation. Anders looked at him directly, his eyes widening slightly.

Then the light in his beautiful brown eyes slowly began to fade...fade into nothingness until his head dropped, chin touching his body. The life had completely gone out of his eyes, his now limp body a shell.

“Anders! NOOOOOOOOOO!”

***

“ANDERS! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Rayvin lurched up as the nightmare faded. His breath came out in gasps, panting harshly. Cold sweat bathed him, pouring down his face. He stumbled out of the bed, removing his armor, tossing it carelessly across the room, until all that remained was his trousers and boots.

Reaching into his pack, he pulled out a flask and opened it. He took a long draw off it, feeling the burn as the strong Fereldan whiskey slid down his throat. Tears fell down his face. He wiped them away with the back of his hand, letting out a primal scream.

FUCK! FUCK IT ALL!

If he ever got his hands on Sebastian, he’d make him wish he’d never been born. Rage tore through him. Everything good had been stripped away; the only thing left behind was the need to destroy something. He reached for his Warblade, smashing it into desk. It splintered under the force of Rayvin’s attack. Then he grabbed the spindly legged chair and hurled it at the wall. It also splintered into pieces. Damn Orlesian crap! He swung the blade around, this time slamming it into the dresser. He grunted as it stuck in the frame. He yanked hard, pulling it out, then hit it again, leaving behind another large gash. He roared, swinging at the wash basin on the top. The delicate ceramic piece shattered, sending shards flying.

Rayvin panted heavily from the exertion, swinging his blade around. He didn’t stop until everything in the room was splintered or shattered. It wasn’t enough, though. Exiting the room, he made his way down the stairs to the courtyard of the keep. Training dummies stood at the base of the tower his room was located in. He swung at the one closest to him. His blade connected with a crack as the dummy was cut in half.

Weak!

Rayvin moved to the next one, hitting it as hard as he could.

Fucking Sebastian!

His blade slashed across the body, rending fabric. Hay spilled out, though in his mind, he imagined it was Sebastian’s guts.

Take that, you fucking bastard!

His next strike hit the neck area, neatly decapitating the dummy. Rayvin let out a roar, immediately tearing into the remaining intact one. Curses slipped from his lips. He poured his rage out into the blows he delivered.

“Self-righteous fucker! I’ll kill you!”

DIE, FUCKER, DIE!

“What in the name of the Maker do you think you are doing?”

Rayvin turned the source of the interruption. A beautiful woman with cropped hair and flashing eyes marched toward him purposefully. She clutched a sword in her hand.

“Who are you?” She growled. She closed the distance between them. “ Why are you turning our equipment into kindling?”

She gasped as she got close enough to see his face. His eyes were bloodshot, wide with rage, almost like a cornered wild animal. His hair flowed in tangles over broad shoulders. His bare chest heaved.

The clouds shifted, the light of the full moon illuminating the courtyard, making it easier to see.  She caught sight of his tattooed arms as he brought his greatsword up in front of himself, preparing to attack if she threatened to hurt him.

“I thought I would redecorate,” he sneered. “Make it match the rest of the rubble.”

“Ugh,” the woman said as she started to walk around him, trying to keep him in sight at all times. “A funny intruder. I should introduce you to our resident dwarf.”

“I don’t need to be introduced to Varric,” he shot back, rolling his eyes. He circled her, sizing her up.

“You know him?” her eyebrows shot up, nearly disappearing into her hairline. “How do you -  ugh! I am going to kill that dwarf with my bare hands!”

Rayvin threw his head back, laughing. “Figured it out, did you? Rayvin Hawke, Champion of Kirkwall, at your service.”

Even though Cassandra knew it was Hawke who was talking to her, her anger made her eyes flash and she pursed her lips into a thin line, trying to compose herself.

“He told me you were gone. We tried to find you for so long. Your estate was empty and there was only a serving girl there at the time. That lying piece of, of - “

“Shit?” Hawke supplied helpfully.

Cassandra sheathed her weapon, her eyes still flashing angrily. But when she spoke her voice was calm.

“Indeed. What brings you here, Champion? I suppose that dwarf asked you to come?”

“Perhaps. I may have come to redecorate. This place is in terrible need. Reminds me of Lowtown.” He dropped his blade. It clattered against the ground at his feet. “I expected something more impressive from the Inquisition .”

He threw a smirk at her as he stepped closer. “Still, I’m sure it’s a step up from Haven.”

“Your glibness does you no credit, Champion,” she huffed angrily. “And you still have not answered my question.”

He leveled his piercing dark blue eyes upon her, taking another step toward her, until they were but an arm’s length apart. The wide-eyed look was gone, replaced by something else. She met his gaze equally, unflinching in the face of what lurked deep within. There was rage, at what she wasn’t sure. And there was loss. Hurt and pain that went deep.

“We’ve established who I am, but what about you?” He flashed a lazy grin.

“I am Cassandra Pentaghast, former Seeker of Truth. I help the Inquisitor as much as possible in his fight against Corypheus.”

“So you’re the one who kidnapped Varric and dragged him to Haven. You were the one searching for me. You wouldn’t have found me, Seeker.”

Cassandra took several steps back, but Hawke also advanced several steps until he was but mere inches away from her. His eyes sparkled as the moonlight hit them, making him look like some kind of predator, ready to pounce.

“I was also the one who interrogated Varric in your manor, but you were not there at the time. Ugh! I never should have believed his story! It isn’t all true, is it?”

“Truth is subjective. I’m here now.  I think you’re in over your head, sweetheart. Do you really want a piece of the Champion?”

Cassandra felt her knees go weak, but she stood firmly, willing herself to calm down - in spite of the attraction she was feeling for the man. He wasn’t the first she’d resisted and certainly not the last.

“It depends on what piece you want to offer,” she replied, her eyes challenging and dark.

The wall of the keep was mere inches behind her. He lunged, pushing her firmly against it. His hands closed around her upper arms, his face a hair’s breadth from hers. His eyes bored into hers, answering the challenge. He knew he was playing with fire, but there was something about her he couldn’t resist.

“I have much to offer. More than you could handle, I bet.”

“Oh?” Cassandra said defiantly as she clenched her jaw. “I didn’t realize. Perhaps because you carry a weapon as long as you are tall? To compensate for something else?”

He pressed his body flush against hers. He had hardened during their bout of teasing. He thrust his hips against her before backing away just far enough to open his pants. His erect length sprung forth.

“Does it seem to you like I have to compensate for anything?”

Cassandra did not flinch or move a muscle. She did not convey any interest whatsoever either. She just kept her eyes on his, a smile on her face as she regarded him coolly.

“I am sorry,” she said finally. “Do I need to convey that I am impressed to you? I would ask you to behave as the Champion of Kirkwall would. Or did that dwarf lie about that also?”

Rayvin let out a loud laugh before tucking himself back in. “What Varric wrote and how I really am are two different stories. If you believed anything in that damn book, then you deserved to be fooled. In fact, Aveline usually referred to me as a thug, no better than the miscreants she locked up.”

“I did not say I believed him, Champion. I did, however, believe you were unreachable when he told me his stupid story at your manor. The book did make for some entertaining light reading, however.”

“At that point, I was unreachable, Seeker. Was sailing somewhere on the Waking Sea with Isabela, of course that was after I was imprisoned by the Prince of Starkhaven and was forced to watch Anders die.”

Cassandra lifted an eyebrow at this point, then shook her head her eyes angrily fixing him with a stare. She did not yell or react to her anger, though. In fact, her voice was quite calm when she spoke. “The man who blew up the Chantry,” she said with a sigh, clenching her fists. “You protected a murderer, Champion. But if you, indeed, watched your lover die, I am sorry. I know how...trying...this can be.”

“You weren’t in Kirkwall. You don’t know the hell it became once that bitch Meredith took over. She was overbearing, power-hungry and thought that force was the answer. She couldn’t see past her own hate. Whatever happened there is because of the vise grip she had on the mages of Kirkwall. There was no way it was going to end peacefully. I am not sorry so many died. Something needed to change. And we all know change never comes peacefully.”

“It could come peacefully, but you are right. Change is necessary now as well if we want to stop this needless war from happening again in the future. The Inquisitor needs our help against this Corypheus. I assume you are here to help us, Champion?”

“Call me Hawke. Anything but Champion. And yes, I came to assist the Inquisition against Corypheus. I thought I killed him before. This time I’ll make sure.”

“Very well, Hawke. You may call me Cassandra.” She was smiling now, nodding her head as she looked at him. “Again, let me express my sorrow for your loss. I do know what you are going through.”

He shook his head, the vestiges of the nightmare still lingering. “You don’t really know. Have you ever had the one thing that meant the most to you ripped away? Sebastian tortured him, over and over. For months before he finally killed him. If we were to pay for our crimes , it shouldn’t have been like that. Don’t talk to me like you know what I’ve been through. You don’t know.”

“I do know,” Cassandra answered softly. “My love was killed at the Conclave. I didn’t witness his death, but it ripped me apart all the same. I also agree that Anders should have been killed outright. Torturing another human being is despicable.”

Rayvin scoffed. “One day I will take care of the Prince of Starkhaven. His title will not shield him from my wrath. Even if it means my death.”

Cassandra said nothing to this, but stood quietly, understanding the pain he was in had no comfort. It would never cease to be and would ultimately consume him. She could, however talk to him about something else, something like Corypheus. That would be preferable to what he was remembering now so acutely.

“You said you killed Corypheus? How is that creature still standing?”

He shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know for sure. He claimed he was a priest of Dumat, one of the magisters who cracked the Golden City. He’s definitely some kind of darkspawn. Maybe it’s the power of the Blight, or old Tevinter magic, but he was dead when we were finished with him. Fuck , I need a drink!”

“Let us go to the tavern, Hawke. There’s plenty to drink there. I shall join you. Your words are certainly making me worry enough to do so,” Cassandra commented, shaking her head briefly.

***

It was nearing dawn when Hawke left the tavern. He had drunk more than he should have, but it helped to dull the pain. Besides the company had been very nice. He made his way to his room, what was left of it, and found a clean shirt within his pack. Leaving the room behind, he walked along the battlements, passing through a tower room behind the tavern then a second one beside the massive drawbridge. He opened a door into the third one, revealing a neat office. He stepped into the room, his eyes falling upon a familiar person at the desk.

“Hello, Cullen,” he spoke softly.

Cullen pulled his hand away from the pommel of his sword and exhaled loudly. “Hawke.” The ex-Templar sounded surprised to see him.

Rayvin made his way into the room, stopping at the desk. He rested his backside against it. “The one and only,” he grinned.

“I suppose I don’t need to ask what brought you here. Varric said you had faced Corypheus before. Your aid is welcomed, but I will not tolerate any of the nonsense that went down in Kirkwall. I also expect you to be forthcoming with the whereabouts of Anders.”

Rayvin slowly looked Cullen up and down. He noted the stretched look, the heavy bags under his eyes, and the sallow skin. This wasn’t the same Knight-Captain he remembered from Kirkwall, the one who defied Meredith and allowed him and his companions to escape after the crazed Knight-Commander had turned into a red lyrium statue. He rubbed his face, also feeling weary.

“He’s dead, Cullen. Killed by the Prince of Starkhaven.” Hawke shook his head. “I’m surprised the Inquisitor didn’t pass on the information.”

Cullen rubbed the back of his neck. “He did not. I am sorry to hear about that. I know Anders meant a lot to you, but I cannot be sorry about his death. You knew sooner or later he would be caught and he would be executed for his crimes.”

Hawke rolled his eyes, “Cassandra said the same thing.”

“You’ve seen Seeker Pentaghast? She knows you’re here.”

Rayvin chuckled softly, “She knows. I’ll probably have to rescue Varric from her.”

Cullen shook his head, sighing. Maker only knew Cassandra had every right to be furious at the dwarf. He hadn’t been honest about where Hawke was. “I would ask where you have been, but I suspect you’ve explained that enough already.”

“A few times, though I promised the Inquisitor I’d speak to the War Council today. Ask what you like then, but anything involving Anders is off-limits. He’s gone. I can’t bring him back. No one would thank me if I did.”

He then turned away and walked out.

***

Chapter Text

Chapter Four: Confrontations

Rayvin groaned aloud as he rolled out of the nest of blankets. His back ached from sleeping on the floor. Coughing, he tried to clear the taste of sand from his mouth. Ugh, cottonmouth, he groaned again and reached for his pack. After withdrawing his flask, he took a swig, swishing the whiskey around his mouth.

Rayvin stood up, gazing upon the wreckage he’d caused. Fuck, he’d have to pay for this. He was sure the Inquisitor wouldn’t be all that pleased with his actions. What’s done is done. He couldn’t change it now. He knew it would do him no good getting upset about it. Just deal with the consequences and move on. It seemed more and more that was all he did.

Deal with the consequences of his actions. He glanced up at the sky through a window. Sweet Maker, he thought, why does everything I do end badly?

He pushed the morose thoughts aside and grabbed clean clothing from his pack. He’d forgo his armor for the meeting the Inquisitor and his advisors in the war room. No need to look all intimidating. Once he had dressed, he left the tower room and headed down some nearby steps into the courtyard. The training dummies he’d wrecked had been removed and replaced with new ones.

A harried looking Inquisition scout approached him quickly. “Pardon me, Champion. Master Tethras was looking for you, but Seeker Pentaghast grabbed him. She dragged him into the smithy. Sister Nightingale suggested I find you.”

Rayvin let loose a deep sigh, “I guess it’s the Champion to the rescue once more. Thank Leliana for me, will you?” He headed into the building the scout had motioned to. Once inside he heard raised voices and scuffling from the upper floor, hastening his way up the stairs.

He watched as Cassandra grabbed Varric, pushing the dwarf into the railing. An angry flush covered her face and neck. “You knew where Hawke was all along!” She shook him before he managed to wiggle free of her grasp.

Varric glared back at her, his eyes flashing just as angrily. “You’re damned right I did!”

Cassandra took a swing at him, “You conniving little shit!”

Varric gracefully ducked under her arm and ran around the table, “You kidnapped me! You interrogated me! What did you expect?”

Hawke cleared his throat, and moved further into the room. He stretched his arms out between them, a finger pointed at both, “That’s enough!”

The former Seeker sneered, “You would take his side, Champion.”

“I said enough!” The former Champion raised his voice. “You will not blame Varric for this!”

More footsteps sounded on the stairs as Inquisitor Trevelyan joined them. He strode into the room, moving to stand near Cassandra. “Just what is going on here?”

Cassandra glanced from Rayvin to Trevelyan then back at Varric, anger still simmering under the surface. “We needed someone to lead this Inquisition. First Leliana and I searched for the Hero of Ferelden, but she had vanished. Then we looked for you, Hawke, but you were gone, too. We thought it all connected, but no.” She pointed at Varric. “It was just you, Varric. You kept him from us.”

“At my insistence,” Rayvin corrected her. He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I told you last night you wouldn’t have found me. I didn’t want to be found. Besides I would have told you to shove your Inquisition where the sun doesn’t shine, in much more colorful terms.”

Cassandra clenched her fists, angrily fixing a stare upon Hawke, but she spoke in a calm voice. “You supported the mage rebellion. I know now you would not have trusted me one bit, but if you had, you would have been at the Conclave. You could have saved Most Holy

“Or I could be dead. Dead is bad. I couldn’t help you then.” Rayvin interrupted. “The Inquisition has a leader, a far better one than I ever could have been.”

“Be that it may, Varric is still a liar! A snake,” Cassandra managed as she rolled her eyes. Then she fixed him with a glare. “Even after the Conclave when our need was greatest, Varric kept quiet, he kept you secret.”

Rayvin’s eyes flashed with annoyance. How many times did he have to explain it to that hard-headed woman? “Are you that dim-witted that you can’t understand that I didn’t want to be found? For fuck’s sake, how many times do I have to say that?”

Varric shook his head. “I was protecting my friend. You people have done enough to Hawke.”

“I’m here now. On your side. There’s no one who wants to see Corypheus dead more than I do.”

Inquisitor Trevelyan, who had been remained quiet since his initial question, spoke up. “How about everyone just calm down? I know you’re angry, Cassandra, but attacking them and pointing fingers of blame isn’t going to help us now. We need all the help we can get.”

“You want to overlook the fact that Varric lied to us about this? Has been lying all this time. If he was willing to do that, what else is he keeping from us?”

Trevelyan turned an inquisitive mien at Varric. “Anything you’d like to tell us? Anything pertinent that I might need to know? Or should I just say no more withholding important information.”

Varric growled at him. “Understood.”

Rayvin’s eyes narrowed dangerously, “Was that a threat?”

“No.”

“Good, because you wouldn’t like it if it were.”

Trevelyan eyed Hawke speculatively. This was a man who wasn’t intimidated by anything. This was a man who had made a habit of flipping his middle fingers at authority and getting away with it. “What do you want, Champion?”

“A stiff drink. C’mon, Varric, the first few rounds are on me.” He nonchalantly flipped his hair over his shoulder and bounded down the stairs with Varric right behind him.

Much like his arrival in Hightown, Hawke had set Skyhold on its ear.

***

“I gotta hand it to ya, Hawke, only you would have the balls to piss into the wind.” Varric quipped. He accepted a shot of whiskey from his longtime friend. Then he shuffled the deck of cards he held in his hands. “Up for a game of Wicked Grace?”

“Deal me in,” Rayvin smirked, his usual shit-eating grin plastered on his face. “Eh, fuck that bitch. I must admit, the Seeker is quite fetching when she’s angry. Not my type, though. Reminds me too much of Aveline.”

Varric flashed Hawke the hairy eyeball as he dealt the cards. “Just when did you see her last night?”

Rayvin let loose a loud guffaw, “After I’d woken up. She caught me thrashing a few combat dummies in the courtyard. She was steaming mad when she figured out who I was and that you’d kept me secret.”

Varric scoffed, “Yeah, I got that.” The dwarf rolled his eyes. “Of course, she blames me.”

“For a Seeker of Truth, she’s pretty dense. Talk about being a few cards short of a deck.” Rayvin discarded two cards before drawing two more. Then he tossed a silver into the pot.

Varric chuckled, looking his hand over. He discarded three cards then drew three more to replace them, tossing a silver in to match Hawke’s last bet. Then he raised it by another. Rayvin took note. The dwarf must think he had a good hand. Much like Isabela, he wouldn’t put it past Varric to cheat.

After a few rounds, Rayvin knew he had a winning hand. He cursed as he drew the Angel of Death card. Time to put up or shut up. As he laid out his cards, he revealed five Knights. Roses, ages, sacrifice, wisdom and dawn.

“I think luck favors me this round,” he quipped as he reached for the silver.

“Not so fast, Hawke.” The dwarf shot a lopsided grin, revealing the Angels of temerity, fortitude, truth, charity and justice. He swept the silver out of Hawke’s grasp.

“You fucking cheated.” Rayvin accused with a growl then he shook his head. He should know better than to play cards with Varric.

“Did not. Ever am I the Paragon of Fair Play. You need to be more careful with your tells. You still get that look in your eyes when you have a good hand.”

Rayvin curled his upper lip in response, tossing in the cards. “This was usually when I took Anders home… when I’d had enough of you and Isabela cheating. At least, she was honest about it.”

“Well, I gotta pay the bills somehow.” Varric smirked.

Rayvin rolled his eyes. He’d just about had enough. He picked up the whisky bottle, drinking from it directly. The amber liquid burned as it went down, made him feel like he wasn’t completely numb inside.

“I’m gonna take a walk.”

***

Hawke grabbed another bottle from the barkeeper on his way out of the tavern and headed for the battlements. Skyhold’s guards watched him idly as he made his way to a small balcony below the Commander’s Tower, just overlooking the drawbridge. He perched himself on a barrel while he polished off the bottle, throwing it at the rocks below once it was empty.

Every fiber of his being screamed at him to leave, to find Isabela, and sail off into the sunset until the world exploded. Grimly, he admitted, that would be better. No more pain. No more heartbreak. He’d be reunited with Anders once more.

He closed his eyes, picturing a smiling Anders… in happier times. What he wouldn’t give to go back to that moment? To hold him, kiss him one last time. But he couldn’t go back, he reminded himself once more, shaking off the melancholy.

He’d never been one to accept defeat so easily. He always had to be right. Even he knew running away would serve no purpose. His place was here. For good or bad, this was where he needed to be. He needed to see this through. To finish what had begun in that ruin in the Vimmarks. To end that darkspawn bastard once and for all. He had never backed down from a fight and he wasn’t about to begin now.

Hawke left the balcony, heading back up to the Commander’s office. He hoped Cullen would be in, maybe he wouldn’t be busy. The quantities of booze he’d consumed muddled his mind, memories of his love all too near. As he stepped into the room, he remained quiet near the door, as Cullen was addressing several of the soldiers.

“I want eyes on the situation in the Hissing Wastes. We must find out what the Venatori are up to in that blighted desert. Rylen’s men will monitor.” He accepted a report from the soldier standing across the desk from him.

“Yes, Ser!” Another saluted, “We’ll begin preparations at once.”

His eyes flicked over the report in his hands, quickly scanning the text. “In the meantime, we’ll send soldiers to the Exalted Plains...” He looked up as a noise from the nearby door caught his attention. His amber eyes locking with Rayvin’s deep blue ones. Why had Hawke come to see him again? Shouldn’t he be palling around with the dwarf? “To assist with the relief effort. The Orlesian Army will undoubtedly want help with the undead rising in the aftermath of their battles.”

“Anything else, Commander?”

He shook his head, dismissing them. “That will be all.” He ushered his soldiers out, closing the door behind them. Then he turned to Hawke, “Back again, Champion. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” His tone was almost sarcastic, his upper lip nearly sneering.

Rayvin chuckled softly, “Oh, you know, I couldn’t stay away. I’ve always had a thing for a dashing rebel with a cause.”

Cullen leaned in, ready to reprimand the Champion for comparing him with that mage, but he recoiled when he caught a whiff of Hawke’s sour whiskey breath. “Did something crawl inside your mouth and die?”

Rayvin chuckled. “You always were one to speak your mind. I like it.”

Cullen sighed as his annoyance grew. He had work to do that didn’t involve dealing with a drunken Champion. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Did you want something, Hawke? I’m rather busy at the moment.”

A sloppy grin crossed the Champion’s face as he looked Cullen up and down. “There is definitely something I want here,” he purred as he leaned closer. He pushed Cullen against the door and pressed against him. Conquest filled his whiskey soaked brain, fueling his lack of inhibition. He nibbled at the Commander’s neck, nipping at his ear before Cullen shoved him away.

“Get off,” Cullen demanded. He stalked over to his desk, putting some distance between himself and Hawke.

A hearty laugh slipped from Hawke’s lips, “What an appropriate turn of phrase. It just so happens I was trying to.”

“I am the Commander of the Inquisition’s forces, not some whore for you to grope. I can and will have you confined to your quarters. You would do well to remember that, Hawke.” Cullen sternly retorted.

Rayvin smirked unapologetically, “There’s so much love here. Warms the heart.” He chuckled as he rested his hands upon the desk, leaning forward against it. “There was something I’ve wondered about for some time now.”

Cullen sighed. Maybe if he humored Hawke, he’d get rid of him sooner. “And what might that be?”

“Would you really have arrested me after shit blew up in Kirkwall?”

Cullen raised an eyebrow. Of all the things Hawke could have asked, he hadn’t expected that question. He looked away, sighing as he glanced out the small window. He could feel Hawke’s eyes upon him, studying his every move. He’d been acquainted with Hawke for ten years, knew he was related to Rihanna, the Hero of Ferelden. He had told himself once he had done it out of respect for her, but that wasn’t entirely the truth. Hawke had always stood up for what he believed in.

“No, Hawke, I wouldn’t have allowed you to be arrested. I know why you took the stand you did, and I respected you for it, despite my feelings about Anders’ actions. Meredith was wrong and I could not condone her madness any longer. I sided with you because it was the right thing to do.”

“Ah, I knew it! You liked me all along!” Rayvin flashed a lopsided grin and reached for the flask in his pocket.

Cullen shook his head, rolling his amber eyes. “I think you’ve had enough to drink for one day. At this rate, you’ll never make it to the war council. Perhaps you should sober up.”

“You do care,” Rayvin placed his hand over his heart, swooning dramatically.

Cullen opened one of his doors, motioning to a soldier patrolling the battlements, “You, there. Send a runner to the kitchens for a pot of herbal tea. Have it brought to the Champion’s quarters.” Then he grabbed the flask from Rayvin’s hand, tossing it into one of his desk drawers. “You don’t need that. C’mon, I think we should get you cleaned up somewhat.”

“If you wanted to get me naked, all you had to do is say so. There’s no need for all this subterfuge.” Rayvin winked, his words slurring ever so slightly.

Cullen sighed, rolling his eyes. “I have no interest in a drunken lush. Have some dignity.” He wrapped an arm around Rayvin’s shoulders, guiding him out of his office, along to battlements, past the tavern to the room he’d been assigned. He opened the door and stepped inside. His breath caught in his throat at the destruction that lay before him. The once opulently adorned room had been reduced to tatters and kindling. “Maker’s Breath, Hawke.”

Rayvin, who had the audacity to look unashamed, laughed. “Oops!”

Cullen gritted his teeth, shaking his head, and placing one hand on his hip and the other on the pommel of his sword. “What in the name of the Maker made you do this?”

Rayvin rubbed his face, knowing he would have to explain, “Bad dreams.” He closed his eyes, unwilling to look at the face of reproach beside him. “Anders would hate the mess. He was always so picky.”

Cullen watched him quietly. He could not begin to guess what was going on in Hawke’s head, but he knew what it was like to suffer from bad dreams. Perhaps they weren’t so different after all.

“I can pay for the damage.” Rayvin offered, sounding more like a scolded child than a Champion.

“That would be wise. Now let’s get you ready for the war council.”

***

Cullen had taken control of the situation. He helped Hawke sober up, and called for soldiers to clean up the wreckage in Hawke’s room, replacing it with less than luxurious but serviceable furnishings. At least Rayvin wouldn’t be sleeping on the floor again. Most of all he escorted Rayvin into the keep. He knew the war council had been waiting to convene.

As he pushed the door open to the Ambassador’s office, he found Trevelyan waiting beside Josephine’s desk, with Leliana standing next to the door that led directly to the war room. Josephine busily jotted down a few notes that Trevelyan dictated.

Trevelyan looked up, smiling fondly at the Commander. “Are we ready?”

Cullen nodded, “I believe so.”

The Inquisitor rolled his eyes. “I should hope so. I had a whole list of things that required my attention today. Sadly I’ve had to put most of them off due to the length of time I had to wait for this meeting to convene.”

Hawke’s eyes narrowed into slits. He didn’t quite like what Trevelyan was implying. “Ah, poor Herald. Can’t make everyone jump on command?”

“Ah, Champion,” Inquisitor Trevelyan responded with a smirk. “I see you have finally come to meet us. We’ve been expecting you for hours. In fact, let me point out that this meeting hasn’t started because we were waiting for you. I must say your lack of punctuality does you no credit. I find that quite rude.”

Hawke took a step forward, paying no heed to Cullen’s sharp intake of breath. “I’m sure you’ll get over it.”

“There’s also another thing I find to be quite rude. I’ve learned from our Spymaster that your room was smashed to bits? This isn’t Kirkwall. I don’t appreciate such behavior. It’s unbecoming for a grown man to lash out like a spoiled child, especially one who so many look to as a hero. I would have thought better of you.” The Inquisitor’s nostrils flared and a vein bulged in his neck. He was indeed quite perturbed, Cullen realized with dismay.

Cullen felt, more than saw, Hawke bristle and rise to his full height. Deep piercing blue eyes glared daggers at Trevelyan and there was no doubt in Cullen’s mind what Hawke was feeling. Anger rolled off him in waves.

“I had the damaged furnishings removed from Hawke’s quarters and replaced with all new, Inquisitor.” Cullen suddenly spoke up in Rayvin’s defense, much to everyone’s surprise.

“Thank you, Cullen, but perhaps you should have left it as it was since our dear Champion doesn’t seem to have any manners or respect for the hospitality we’ve afforded him.” Trevelyan crossed his arms in front of his chest and jutted his chin defiantly. He had been all for Varric bringing Hawke into the Inquisition, but the events of the past few days had left a bad taste in his mouth.

“Manners? Fuck you!” Hawke quietly spat out.

Trevelyan shot a glare. “Ah, there it is! That lovely Champion charm everyone talks about,” he stated, shaking his head in disgust. “Since you are so ‘fashionably’ late, I have taken the liberty of sending out messages to all the people in my Inner Circle. I expect them to start arriving very soon. I suggest we wait for them at the war table.”

Cullen tried his best to steer Hawke in the right direction, but the Champion shrugged his arm away, his fists clenching as he continue to glare at the Inquisitor. “After you, Inquisitor.”

Rayvin didn’t like it, but it meant that Varric would be at the war council. That was a plus. He wasn’t sure what the hell had caused the Inquisitor’s hostility all the sudden. When they had parted ways the day before it had been on amicable terms. Sure, there had been a few tense moments, but nothing that warranted this level of unfriendliness. There was more going on than met the eye and he wanted to know what it was. Maybe Varric had some insight. Or maybe Leliana. Hell, perhaps even Cullen.

Trevelyan ignored the remark as he swept past Hawke and Cullen, opening the double doors that led to the war room. The five of them entered the war room, finding the Iron Bull already inside, who nodded at Trevelyan and leaned against the wall facing the table with a map of Southern Thedas carved intricately on it.

“Hey, boss,” Bull said as he regarded the Inquisitor. “I guess I made it here before the others.”

Trevelyan nodded in acknowledgment, but did not reply. Cassandra walked inside, followed by Solas and Varric. The Inquisitor also greeted them with a nod of his head and a smile on his lips a smile that didn’t reach his eyes at all. Hawke frowned. There was something off about the Inquisitor. He came off as congenial at first, but had it been a smokescreen? Maybe it was just because he was a pompous ass noble. Perhaps it was something else.

The rest of Trevelyan’s inner circle trickled in and he called the meeting to start. “We have gathered some intel on Corypheus’ plans in the Western Approach. We know he plans to field a massive demon army. We suspect this might be why he wants control of the Wardens, but until we have some solid proof, we can’t know for sure. Now Hawke, you were telling me about your Warden contact, Alistair. Does he have information we can use? And I don’t believe you told me why exactly you had contacted them in the first place?”

“Alistair is one of the few Grey Wardens that hasn’t gone missing. I contacted him because of the red lyrium. Varric told you about how we found the red lyrium idol in the Deep Roads during our expedition. His brother Bartrand sold it to Knight-Commander Meredith. She had a sword made out of it. It inevitably drove her crazy.” Rayvin explained. He glanced around the room, his eyes meeting those of several different members of the Inquisitor’s Inner Circle. He smirked as the dark skinned mage known as Madame de Fer scoffed and visibly rolled her eyes.

Trevelyan nodded briefly and Vivienne spoke up.

“I’ve something to say, darlings. Even though you took the mages’ side, Inquisitor, I do not agree that we should accept Hawke’s word on this matter. He is a known mage sympathizer who will do anything for the mages. It’s well known that he was Anders’ lover. I simply do not see him as someone who is trustworthy at all.”

“Hawke speaks truthfully about Meredith, Lady Vivienne. I can attest that much is true,” Cullen interceded. “It is difficult to say just how far she would have gone had the events in Kirkwall not happened. I’m not saying I condone the actions Anders’ took. She needed to be stopped and everyone knew it. It’s why I stood against her in the end with Hawke.”

Rayvin sized her up slowly, carefully taking in her demeanor, her elaborate dress, and her haughty manners. “You believe all mages should be in Circles, yes? Except you don’t live in the Circle full time. You split your time between the Imperial Court and wherever else you live. You believe Anders taking the stand he took was wrong?”

“He was wrong. He was an abomination with delusions of grandeur.” Crossing her arms calmly before her she offered Hawke a smile, which did nothing to lessen the fury in her eyes. “All those mages’ lives gone because of what you did. Killing innocents to further a cause does not help. It hinders all of us, for the people now think us as monsters to be feared on sight. I supposed you must be happy with the outcome, aren’t you darling? We’re fighting the demons now because of it.”

“Oh, you really are a drama queen, aren’t you?” Rayvin glared. He really didn’t like hearing her call Anders an abomination. The stupid bitch really didn’t know what she was talking about. “It’s you that is wrong, sweetheart. You just can’t look outside your preconceived notions long enough to see it. If Anders hadn’t done what he did, if the Kirkwall Chantry hadn’t been destroyed, I guarantee you the world would be in a far worse state than it is now.”

“Preposterous.” Vivienne retorted and fixed her icy blue eyes on him.

“Not at all. Think about it. There was already red lyrium in Kirkwall. Red lyrium that was driving the Knight-Commander mad. If she had lived, you can bet that the corruption of the Templar Order would have begun in Kirkwall. Corypheus could have seized the Order then. Hence he would have had the Grey Wardens and the Templars. And if the Chantry hadn’t been destroyed, do you really think the Circles would have started rebelling? Would the Grand Enchanter have voted for the Circle’s independence? I don’t think so. They wouldn’t have had the opportunity. If none of that had happened, there wouldn’t have been a Conclave and hence, the Temple of Sacred Ashes wouldn’t have been destroyed.”

“Supposition, darling.”

Hawke shook his head. “Or maybe you are just too blind or too ignorant to see the truth when it’s staring you in the face. You cling to the power you have, to your position. Yet you fail to see how fragile it is. You claim to lead to loyalist mages, yet you had freedoms they never had, especially if those mages were in a circle such as Kirkwall. I’m not a mage. I don’t know what it was like to live in a place like the Gallows, but through aiding Anders, I helped many mages escape that hell.

“Take a young mage named Alain. He was originally from Starkhaven. Their Circle burned to the ground and they were transferred to Kirkwall. Some of those mages took the opportunity to escape and yes, some of them resorted to blood magic, which was despicable. But Alain turned himself in when Ser Thrask came looking for him. A few years later, I found out from Alain that another Templar, one Ser Karras, would enter his cell late at night and threatened Tranquility if Alain ever told anyone what was going on. Or how about Ser Alrik? He was a special bastard. His ‘Tranquil Solution’ which he submitted to both Meredith and the Divine Justinia would have turned every mage from a Circle outside of the Imperium into emotionless husks. That would have included you, Madame. I found him in the tunnels beneath the Gallows with a dozen or more subordinates. They had a young apprentice with them. Her name was Ella. He was threatening to make her tranquil and when she was, she would do anything he told her to do. He died screaming for mercy as I ripped him apart. The list goes on.”

“Kirkwall was lamentable. It was the exception, not the rule. Not every Circle was as harsh.” Vivienne stood her ground. She would not be cowed. “Not every mage is strong enough to control their powers. Your apostate lover who destroyed the Chantry was weak and nothing you say will make me believe otherwise.”

“That statement further proves your ignorance. Before Justice, Anders was a Spirit Healer, which are exceptionally rare. He ran a free clinic in Darktown for the poor of Kirkwall, taking care of the refugees which the Chantry would not. All he ever wanted was for mages to have the same freedom as mundane people, to not feel like his gifts were wrong. Magic is a Maker given gift and there is nothing you can say that will convince me otherwise.” Hawke stated, his voice taking on an almost imploring one. “That you have so little faith in your own kind shows how weak you are. Why you immediately think so badly about your fellow mages is beyond my comprehension.”

“Many things are apparently beyond your comprehension, darling.”

“You are so wrapped up in Chantry rhetoric, aren’t you? You can’t stand the fact that change is so badly needed because you fear it. You fear change sweeping away the little bits of status you’ve achieved. Typical. You aren’t the only mage in this room, but you are the only one protesting.” Rayvin shot back. “Let me tell you something else. My little sister was a mage. She was not dangerous and most likely never would have been. She grew up as an apostate, so she never was sent to a Circle. She learned to control her magic from our father, who was once a Circle mage. She died in the Deep Roads unfortunately. My father believed that education was the key for a young mage, but that shouldn’t constitute locking someone away in a prison for being what they are, not when they can do so much good. I do realize not every mage wants to do right. Fuck, I’ve fought more than my share of blood mages. Kirkwall was full of them.”

“Enough. The circular argument about mages isn’t getting us anywhere. We’re here to discuss the Wardens, Corypheus and decide our next course of action,” Trevelyan interrupted. “Not fight among ourselves about the mages. Let’s just focus on that, please.”

“It’s about time. We’ve all been subjected to more than enough grandstanding from the diva,” Vivienne chided at Hawke as she rubbed her manicured nails against the bodice of her gown.

“Diva,” Hawke muttered under his breath. “Fucking bitch.”

Hawke felt the quick jab of an elbow into his side. He exhaled sharply, turning to see Cullen giving him a wide eyed look. The Commander briefly shook his head, a warning not to continue. Rayvin’s lips quirked. He didn’t like it, but he would respect Cullen’s unspoken wishes.

Trevelyan arched a brow at Vivienne before turning his attention back to the matter at hand. “You told me Alistair was in Crestwood. Have you any information of his whereabouts beyond an old smuggler’s cave? And why he chose Crestwood? Considering his connection to Redcliffe, I would have figured he would have gone there.”

“Knowing Alistair as I do, he wouldn’t bring more trouble to Redcliffe or Arl Teagan. From what I know of it, Crestwood is a small village along the King’s Road, but his presence is not likely to be made an issue of. Technically he isn’t supposed to be in Ferelden at all. At the end of the Fifth Blight, he turned down the Ferelden throne and swore an oath of fealty to Queen Anora, much to the dismay of Arl Eamon. That fealty came with conditions. He could not serve the Grey Wardens of Ferelden. He was sent to Weisshaupt and then was reassigned to Orlais. I met him, of course, in Kirkwall.”

“I’ll be leading a team to Crestwood as soon as possible, Hawke,” Trevelyan added. “I would appreciate it if you were to head out in advance.”

“I can set out tomorrow morning,” he replied nonchalantly. “Would that please you?”

“It would please me if you stopped poking me to see if I’ll react, Champion. It’s growing rather tiresome.” Trevelyan sighed, then turned to Leliana.

“I’ve already sent a great deal of scouts to Crestwood, Inquisitor,” the spymaster said. “They should be settled in by now, at least at the forward camp. Scout Harding went ahead to chart the area.”

“Good work, Leliana,” he smiled and nodded. “Make sure you provide Hawke with what he needs before he heads out. Meeting adjourned.”

***

Rayvin left the War Room, feeling like he wanted to explode. He headed for his room in the tower, with Varric on his heels. He grabbed a bottle out of his pack, reminding himself to stock up before he headed to Crestwood to meet up with Alistair. After a long draw from it, he turned to Varric, offering the dwarf a swig.

Varric shook his head, “I think you’ve had enough, Hawke.”

“Enough? Hardly, I’ve barely even begun,” Rayvin retorted before he upended the bottle of Legacy White Shear and chugged half of it.

Varric shook his head. Rayvin always had been a heavy drinker. It was now more than apparent that he’d gotten worse with Anders no longer around to curb the worst of his alcoholism.

“Who the fuck do they think they are?”

Varric cocked an eyebrow, “Are you referring to the Inquisitor or the Iron Lady?” He knew where this was going, why Hawke was so angry. He hadn’t agreed with Anders’ actions, but he had stood beside Hawke nonetheless.

“Both, now that you mention it. Talking about Anders that way.” He set the bottle down on the nightstand Cullen’s men had brought to replace the one he’d smashed. “I know how much you hated leaving Kirkwall. I know you blame Anders for all that has happened, but you know as well as I do, there’s no way it could’ve gone any other way. The blame and the pointing of fingers needs to stop, and if it means I have to smash their faces in, so be it.”

Varric glowered at his long time friend, “More violence isn’t going to solve a thing, Hawke. You can’t punch your way through this like you have everything else. It won’t work here. And you drinking yourself into a stupor

Rayvin scoffed, glaring back. “I’m hardly drunk so no need for you to be concerned. What I don’t understand is when you became such a sycophant to someone like Trevelyan? Fucking poncy bootlicker. I see how it is.” He flopped down into a chair, stretching out his long legs. A loud knock interrupted Varric’s answer, but it didn’t matter, Rayvin could see he was pissed.

Good job, you idiot.

Rayvin sighed as he went to get the door. Cullen stood on the other side, wearing a frown. Hawke sighed, bracing himself for the worst. However, the worst wasn’t a reprimand from Cullen. Varric pushed his way out, and left without a word to him.

Shaking his head, Hawke left the door open for Cullen to walk inside, which he did, closing the door behind him.

“Drink?” he offered, but Cullen shook his head.

“I’m just passing through,” the Commander said, sitting on one of the chairs in the room.

Rayvin sighed deeply and sat on his bed. “So, when are you going to start to reprimand me? I can take it. I’m a big boy.”

Cullen smiled, his scar deliciously turning upwards and Rayvin fixed his eyes on his lips for a few seconds before shaking his head morosely.

“Well? Out with it,” he sighed.

“I’m not here to, ah, reprimand exactly,” Cullen started speaking softly. “I came to say I disliked the way you were treated. Even though I personally do not agree with what Anders did, I know you two were happy together. It’s difficult to...find someone to share your life with.”

Hawke’s eyes widened slightly. He took a swig from his bottle, trying to make sense of what was happening.

“Wait, are you saying you actually side with me against your wonderful Inquisitor?” Hawke shook his head and grinned. “That would be something!”

“Didn’t I side with you against Meredith?” Cullen chuckled back. “I fail to see why you are so surprised.”

Rayvin burst out laughing. He sat the bottle on the table and grinned at Cullen who stood up and then sat beside him. “I, I’m really sorry Hawke. I know what it’s like to lose someone you care about.”

“I know you’re sincere about this,” Rayvin responded in a soft voice. “I owe Anders my life. Several times over. He saved all of us more than once. I won’t let anyone talk so horribly about him. I can’t.”

“I’m sorry,” Cullen dropped his voice to a whisper. “You’re here to help and we have antagonized you so far. It’s unfair.”

Rayvin looked up, deep into Cullen’s amber gaze. His eyes flicked briefly to his lips, warm and inviting. Leaning towards him slowly, to give Cullen a chance to pull away, he waited for a few moments. When Cullen started to lean towards him as well, he took his chance. In an instant, his lips were on Cullen’s soft ones, and the thrill of the kiss made him moan.

Cullen hummed into his mouth, deepening the kiss, surprising Hawke once again. They kissed until Hawke had to come up for some air.

“Well,” Rayvin said quietly. “I didn’t expect that.”

“I didn’t either,” Cullen smiled. “When you return from Crestwood, or maybe when the madness of Adamant is done, we can...get together?”

“I would like that,” Rayvin smiled, captivated by those amber eyes.

Cullen chuckled. “I’m afraid I have to go, work is probably piled up on my desk.”

“I understand, no worries. You always were so dedicated to your work. You still are,” Rayvin chuckled.

“That I am. I hope to see you before you leave tomorrow, however,” Cullen said. “Maybe say goodbye at the stables?”

“Oh, I’d like that. I’d like that very much.”

***

Chapter Text

Chapter Five: The Champion, The Commander and The Warden

Despite the fact he knew he’d be riding out first thing in the morning, Rayvin spent the rest of the evening in the tavern. When he wasn’t drinking, he joined Maryden for a few songs, but for the most part he avoided most everyone in the tavern. It also didn’t surprise him that Varric hadn’t joined him. It did, however, surprise him that Cassandra did.

She entered the tavern, stopping at the bar for a pint, before she approached his table. “Might I join you, Hawke?”

Rayvin smiled, “Be my guest, Lady Seeker.” He noted she set a book down on the table in front of herself alongside her drink. “What can I do ya for?”

Cassandra rolled her eyes as she took a seat, “Ugh. Do you always have to be so difficult?”

He chuckled, his eyes twinkling with mischief. “I’ve always considered myself quite easy.”

“Your glibness does you no credit, Hawke. Must you make everything a joke?” She shook her head. “No wonder you and Varric are friends. Neither of you seems to take anything seriously.”

Rayvin grinned, winking at her. “Oh, I can be serious… when I have to be. Now isn’t one of those times. But it seems since you approached me, you want something. Have you decided to take me up on my offer for a piece of the Champion? I promise you won’t be disappointed.”

“No, I have not.” Cassandra sighed, “I warn you, Hawke. If you persist, I may have to hit you.”

Rayvin threw up his hands, blocking his line of sight. “Could you avoid hitting my face? I’d appreciate it. However, if you must hit something , I think I would rather enjoy the feel of you smacking my ass.” He flashed a lopsided grin at her, his eyes still alight with mirth.

Cassandra made a disgusted noise in the back of her throat. Then she let out an audible sigh as she slid out of her seat. “Why do I even bother?”

“I promise you’ll enjoy it as much as I will.”

An enigmatic look flashed across her face, settling in her eyes. Without warning, she drew her arm back and felt her fist connect with his mouth. Rayvin’s head snapped back from the force of the blow and stars twinkled before his eyes. He groaned, throwing his hands up to shield against any other strikes.

“I said not the face,” he complained as he touched his mouth. He drew his hand back, noticing smeared dots of red liquid on his fingertips. She had drawn blood.

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

He should know better than to taunt females like her. Just like Aveline, Cassandra had all she could take of him and let her fists do the talking for her.

He respected that.

He wiped the blood away with the back of his hand. “Nice shot. I suppose I deserved that. You know what Varric would say, right? The damned dwarf would probably tell us to get a room. Alas, you aren’t my type. I much prefer blond, scruffy rebels.”

Yet another noise of disgust slipped from her lips. She fixed upon him a look that said she wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. Inwardly, however, she regretted it immediately. Her reaction had been far too brash… again. Cassandra reprimanded herself to control her temper.

Rayvin winked, chuckling as he picked up the book she had set down. “Alright, I’ll behave. Sit back down. Enjoy your drink. You obviously had something in mind when you approached me. Might it involve the Tale of the Champion ?”

His eyes flicked over it, noting the hole that went clear through front to back. He didn’t have to ask how it had gotten there.

Cassandra cleared her throat. “I spoke to Varric after the war council. I asked him if he thought you would autograph it. Amongst his blasphemous expletives, he said I’d have to ask you… if I could catch you when you were sober.”

Hawke shook his head, “He said that, did he? I suppose I deserve that. Well I won’t promise that I’m sober right now, but I can do that. I don’t have ink or a quill. However, I could write it in blood.”

“I would rather you not. I will get you what you need before you head out for Crestwood. Is Varric going with you?”

It was now Rayvin’s turn to scoff and roll his eyes, “That’s unlikely. Right now he’s probably wishing I’d stayed away. He says I drink too much. I say he needs to not worry so much.”

Cassandra eyed him intently. “You do realize how transparent you are, Hawke. The destructive tendencies you display are a clear cry for help. He must have cause to be concerned. Of everyone here, he has known you the longest.”

“Actually, that isn’t entirely true, Seeker. I’ve known Leliana longer, though we were nothing more than casual acquaintances. You know she was a lay sister in Lothering.”

“I am well aware of that, Hawke.”

Rayvin flipped through the pages of the book. He stopped when he came to the drawing of all his companions – Rivaini, Varric, Daisy, Blondie, Aveline, and Broody. How Varric loved his nicknames. He had called Bethany ‘Sunshine.’ She lived up to the moniker no matter what. Even in death, she had been the best of them. Her light hadn’t faded one bit.

He ran his fingers over the caricature of Anders, resting upon it. It was hard to look at it. He missed him far too much. He pursed his lips together, wincing as pain shot through it. Running his tongue over his teeth, he tasted something metallic and sighed as a tooth wiggled.

He reached in and yanked it out, slamming the blighted thing onto the table. “Thank you, Seeker,” he drawled sarcastically and set the book back on the table. “As you know, I’m leaving for Crestwood at first light. If I don’t see you before then, I’ll autograph it the next time I see you.”

Which is hopefully never….

Rayvin pushed away from the table, grabbed his bottle and left the tavern behind. He crossed the yard and climbed the stairs nearest to his room. His long legs ate up the distance, taking them two at a time until he reached the top. He wandered along the battlements until he found a spot to sit down overlooking the keep’s garden. It was empty and lonely.

Much like himself.

He took a swig from the bottle he clutched in his hand, feeling it burn in his gut. The fiery liquid, Hirol’s Lava Burst, rolled like the sea. He knew he was sinking, caught in the undertow. Was Cassandra right? Was Varric? He closed his eyes, shaking his head.

Fuck it… fuck ‘em , a little voice whispered.

You’re in denial , a second voice chimed in. You can’t drink away the pain.

“I can,” he said to the air around him. He lifted the bottle to his lips, filling his mouth with the potent brew. He swallowed, feeling the warmth coursing through his body.

‘Each drop helps me forget .

But you can’t forget. Not really. Running away solves nothing.

‘It could, if I was left alone.’

Anders wouldn’t want to see you like this.

‘Anders is dead and it’s my fault. I failed him.’

You didn’t fail.

“Yes, I did. He’s gone.” Hawke spoke out loud. He drained the bottle, his head swimming. He pushed himself to his feet as dizziness upset his balance. Staggering off the ledge overlooking the garden, he braced himself against the wall, the stone cool against the fire in his head. The voices in his head droned on as images of Anders flashed before his eyes. Smiling and laughing one moment, bloodied and broken the next.

Rayvin cried out, slamming his fist against wall over and over, beating his knuckles bloody. Curses slipped from his lips. He smashed the bottle next, gazing down at the broken shards. He picked up the largest piece, hissing at the feel of its bite against his skin as he slashed his palm open. Blood ran down his hand, dripping to the stone below his feet.

His upper lip curled up in a sneer. He turned away from the garden, heading up a few stairs to the battlements, once again standing on the edge. He took in the view, the majestic mountains soaring to the sky. He looked down. It was a long way down, jagged rocks lining the base of the keep.

What was it the old witch said? It is only when you fall that you learn whether you can fly.

I am Hawke… time to find out if I truly have wings.

I’m coming home, Anders.

Just as Rayvin leaned forward, he caught a blur of movement to his left. He stopped, turning toward it. The battlements around him were bereft of anyone but himself. Looking back to the rocks below, he heard a soft voice.

Flying, fluttering, heart hammering, raging, reaving, war and weariness, blood and battle. Everyone wants a hero, but you feel like a failure. You don’t have to drown the pain. I can help.”

“Who’s there?” Hawke called out.

A blond young man materialized suddenly. Standing beside Hawke he blinked, his large eyes fixing themselves on him.

“Who the fuck are you?” Hawke demanded, scowling as he looked at him.

“I’m here to help,” Cole said quietly. “Heal the pain, help you forget.”

Rayvin stepped away from Cole, backing away from him. “I don’t want to! Whatever you are, just back off!”

Cole disappeared before his very eyes.

He frowned remembering the spirit’s words. “What the fuck?”

***

Rayvin returned to a near empty tavern, stopping at the bar. He paid for another bottle and scooped up a cloth the dwarven bartender used to wipe down for the bar. He tossed out an additional silver and proceeded to rip it into bandages, wrapping it around his palm.  Then he took the stairs to the upper level of the tavern and made his way to a small room with gaudy decorations.

An elf wearing an odd red and yellow plaid outfit with short hair sat lounged by one of the windows. He knocked at the door and cleared his throat. “Might I come in?”

Sera turned sharply to look at him, her eyes suspicious. “What do you want?”

He held up the bottle in his hand and took a step into the room. “I heard from Varric you’re a Red Jenny. Does that mean you know the one from Tantervale?”

“Why does a bigshot like you want to know?”

Rayvin chuckled. This Sera was a feisty one. “Relax. Do you know Charade?”

“I know her. She’s a good one, knows her tricks. What’s it to you?”

His lips quirked up in a half-smile as he offered the bottle he held in his hand to her. “Charade’s my cousin. She’s my Uncle Gamlen’s daughter.”

“Who’s what now? She’s related to you? That tricky little…” Sera accepted the bottle and uncorked it, taking a swig. “So why tell me? Think it gives us something in common. Well, it doesn’t. You’re still some bigshot noble.”

“Is that what you think? I have a title that I earned the hard way. I started out as the son of an apostate farmer. I was asking you because I need to send her a message. A private message if you get my meaning.”

“Why not ask Varric?”

“I thought that would be obvious. Look, I’ve dealt with you Jennies before. Varric and I kept the streets clean in Kirkwall, but you know about that. Do me a solid and I’ll make it worth your while.”

A smile crossed Sera’s face and she handed him back the bottle. “Deal.”

***

The sun had barely peaked up over the mountain tops as he made his way down to the stables. The yard was empty, save for the stable hand who had readied Hawke’s horse. He stowed his pack in the saddlebags. He had thought to stop by Cullen’s office, letting him know he was heading out, but maybe it was better this way. Cullen had his own troubles. He didn’t need Rayvin’s dragging him down any further.

He gripped the saddlehorn, placing his foot in the stirrup, and mounted the big black Amaranthine Charger. He rode to the drawbridge, stopping when he caught sight of Cullen striding toward him rather purposefully.

“Were you going to leave without saying goodbye?” A troubled look filled Cullen’s amber eyes.

Rayvin sighed, tasting the guilt that churned in his gut, and looked away. He couldn’t bear to see any disappointment in those eyes. He told himself this was for the best, but seeing Cullen now… it left a bad taste in his mouth. “Cullen,” he began, his voice soft.

“I see. You can’t escape whatever it is that you’re running from,” Cullen murmured. He stepped as close as he could, resting a hand on Hawke’s thigh.

“I tried. I’m no good.” He looked into Cullen’s eyes.

Breath hitched in Cullen’s chest. He let out a gasp. “What in Andraste’s name happened to your face?”

Rayvin sighed, “I made Cassandra mad.” He rested his injured hand upon Cullen’s.

“Cassandra? What did you do?” He took Rayvin’s hand in his own, examining it. He took note of the busted knuckles and hasty bandage wrapped around his palm. “Tell me you didn’t hit her back.”

A flash of anger flickered through Rayvin’s eyes, turning them stormy. “No, I picked a fight with a wall. As you can see, it won.”

“A wall?”

“Did I stutter?” Rayvin rolled his eyes. “Yes, a wall. There are many things I’ve done that I’m not proud of, but hitting a woman, no matter how sorely she deserves it, has never been on that list. Not even Aveline.”

“I, ah, didn’t mean to offend you, Hawke. Maker’s Breath, this isn’t going like I thought it would.”

Rayvin leaned forward, his hair falling around his face and shoulders like a curtain. “And just what were you expecting?” He threaded his fingers through Cullen’s, squeezing his hand lightly.

“You’re a bit taller than when I last saw you. Do you think you can remedy that?” Cullen asked with a delicious smirk.

Rayvin chuckled, swiftly dismounting the horse. It put him at eye level with Cullen. “Is this better?”

Cullen smirked again as he leaned forward, capturing Hawke’s lips in a desperate kiss. “Much better,” he managed to say before Hawke hungrily kissed him back, eliciting a moan from Cullen. His hands grasped at Rayvin’s neck and waist, pulling him even closer to him and making him hate the armor he was wearing at the moment.

They came up for air and Cullen chuckled, placing his forehead against Hawke’s. “Try to keep safe, please. For me?” His golden eyes bore into his own and the pain Rayvin was feeling suddenly seemed to dull and greatly lessen.

“You know me. Trouble seems to find me no matter what I do, but I hope it is an uneventful ride to Crestwood.”

“I will see you when you get back,” Cullen said, his voice a whisper.

Rayvin gave him a smile and mounted his horse.

“I’m counting on it.”

***

Rayvin made good time traveling to Crestwood. It felt good being in Ferelden again. After so many years away, he was home. The light drizzle he’d ridden through most of the day turned into a heavy downpour the closer he came to the small town in the Coastlands. He had never been to Crestwood before. It was one of the small towns his family hadn’t lived near during his youth.

The chaos beleaguering the small town didn’t surprise him in the least. Many had been affected since the destruction of the Conclave and the opening of the Breach. Corypheus and his Red Templars had infected the land with a plague of demons and red lyrium, one he was for certain was worse than anything that had come before, even the Blight.  He couldn’t help but think he was responsible. Varric had often blamed himself for the red lyrium idol and for locating the prison where the Wardens had Corypheus locked away, but he knew that blame was misplaced. Varric wouldn’t have had to find that blighted prison if the Carta hadn’t been hunting down Malcolm Hawke’s remaining son. Hawke’s blood had been needed to free him. Why couldn’t the bloody ancient bastard just stay dead? That would have made things so much simpler. Maybe then the Divine’s plan for peace would have succeeded.

So much for peace, he scoffed.

He skirted the town, heading toward Caer Bronach. He glanced up at the majestic fort, noting it had fallen into disrepair. No doubt a haven for miscreants. News out of Ferelden had suggested that Bann Bronach had perished when his forces clashed with Teyrn Loghain’s during the civil war which had raged amidst the Blight. Since then the keep had stood empty.

Rayvin rode on, spurring his horse into an easy canter. He was eager to see his friend again. He thought back to their initial meeting during the Qunari invasion of Kirkwall in 9:34 Dragon. The Wardens had been caught up in the fighting, defending themselves against the horde of marauding Qunari who had spread through the city like a pack of ravenous wolves.

After Rayvin had been named the Champion, they encountered each other again. This time through a letter written by Alistair to Hawke at the urging of Rayvin’s cousin, Rihanna. The two had kept in touch from that point on. When trouble beset Kirkwall once more three years later, he reached out to Alistair again, specifically about the red lyrium. Did the Wardens have any information about it? What made it so different than normal lyrium? Just how dangerous was it? He found he had more questions than he could find answers for.

The cave Alistair had holed up in was close by. Alistair’s last missive had mentioned the South Road and Three Trout Pond, claiming he’d ‘evicted’ the smugglers who had taken up residence. He headed directly to it, unnerved by the giant spires of red lyrium dotting the landscape. Someone needed to destroy those deposits. Hopefully break the hold the Red Templars had on Southern Thedas.

Rayvin dismounted, removing the saddle from his horse’s back and tied its reins to a bush out in front of the cave, allowing it to graze. Once he was for certain Alistair was truly here, he’d bring it in out of the rain. Just inside the cave mouth, he set the saddle down and tossed the saddlebags over his shoulder. He cautiously crept along the path formed from limestone deposits until he reached a door. A grimace crossed his face at the symbol of The Blind Men. It was covered in bloodstains, suggesting a rather violent end to the previous inhabitants. Or so he hoped it had been the smugglers. He hoped nothing ill had befallen Alistair. He was the one Warden in all of Southern Thedas not in collusion with whatever had overtaken the rest of the Grey Wardens.

He cracked open the wooden door, poking his head inside for a peak. A couple bedrolls lay near a small fire. A table stood near a large limestone formation in the center of the small cavern. There was no sign of his friend, however.

Where could he be?

“Alistair,” Hawke called out softly as he stepped inside the cavern, glancing about.  He crossed the length of the room to the table, noticing the map of Orlais rolled out upon it. Several regions were marked. The Western Approach caught his eye, specifically Adamant Fortress. “Alistair, it’s just me, Hawke. Come out, come out wherever you are.”

The blond Warden came out from the rear of the cave. “Hawke,” he spoke up, inclining his head. “Glad you could finally make it. We’ve been expecting you for some time now.”

Rayvin cocked an eyebrow at him curiously. “We? What do you mean? Who else is here? Am I the last to the party? Never fear, I brought drinks!”

Alistair chuckled softly. He turned slightly, motioning for someone to come forth. “This came as much as a surprise to me as it will you. Rayvin Hawke, meet your cousin, Rihanna Amell.”

A gasp caught in Rayvin’s throat as a short female with long dirty blond hair and bright sapphire eyes stepped out from behind Alistair. She rushed forth, throwing her arms around Rayvin, and wrapped him up in a breathtaking hug. “Cousin,” she squealed as she backed away a step or two. “It is so good to meet you… finally.”

He stared down at this tiny slip of a woman, dressed in the trappings of a Warden-Commander, with awe and disbelief on his face. This was Rihanna, the Hero of Ferelden. His cousin. She had defeated the Archdemon and brought the Fifth Blight to an end, sparing the world from the ravages of the darkspawn. This is the woman that Anders, even Justice, had praised for her skill in battle, her mastery of the arcane forces, and her ferocity on the battlefield.  No, it couldn’t be. She looked like a stiff breeze could blow her away.

For once he found he was utterly speechless. He sputtered for the lack of words. It took him a few moments to recover. “Sweet Maker! Of all the people I thought I’d encounter today, you weren’t one of them. What a pleasant surprise, cousin.”

Rihanna scrunched up her face, flashing an evil eye at him. She glared at him, exhaling sharply. “What in the name of Andraste’s great flaming arse is wrong with you? Where is Anders? What the FUCK were either of you thinking!? The Mages of Kinloch Hold in Ferelden had autonomy. It was my boon for defeating the Archdemon and saving the world. How could he begin the MAGE REBELLION?”

Rayvin crossed his arms in front of his chest, adopting an aggressive stance. He gritted his teeth and glared back. He was so tired of answering that question, especially from people who had known Anders. It enraged him that he had to defend Anders against his so-called friends.

Glaring back, he clenched his jaw, hissing vehemently, “And what if he did? He had his reasons. He wanted to live free like any non-mage. He wanted a world where mages weren’t persecuted for what they are. I would have thought you would understand or are you a closet loyalist that thinks all mages should be locked up besides you, like Madame de Fer at Skyhold.”

“I believe in freedom for everyone, but I’m not about kill innocent people to do it.”

“And you mean to say that everyone that you have ever killed has been guilty of some crime? That they deserved it. Even I’m not that magnanimous to claim something like that, dear cousin. You all of people should know that the world is never that black and white.”

“So where is he? I’d really like to have a chat with him because the man who destroyed the Chantry is not the same man I knew for years at Kinloch.”

Rayvin cocked his head at her then glanced over at Alistair. “I take it you didn’t tell her.”

Amell glanced from Hawke to Alistair. Had she missed something? Apparently. “Tell me what?”

Alistair wrapped his arms around her from behind, pulling her back against his chest. “Hawke told me that Anders is gone. He’s dead.” He glanced up at Rayvin. “We should all settle down and discuss this like adults, no yelling, and no name calling.”

“Fine,” both Rayvin and Rihanna said simultaneously.

“See? Was that so hard?”

Alistair let go of Rihanna. She moved away from both men, taking a seat on one of the bedrolls. She shook her head, letting out a sigh. “I am sorry, cousin, for your loss. What Anders did makes me so angry. I mean, how could he have done such a thing? The Anders I remember avoided confrontation. Do you know how many times he ran away from the Circle?”

“Seven,” Rayvin replied.  “I hate to break it to you, but the Anders you knew ceased to exist when he merged with Justice. His anger for the Templars turned Justice into Vengeance.”

“Anders corrupted Justice or was it the other way around? I read the reports of what happened at the Warden’s base in Amaranthine after I was called away by the First Warden. I know the Chantry interfered, sending templars to the Vigil. Templars who joined the Grey Wardens just so they could keep an eye on our mages.” A sad look crossed Rihanna’s lovely face, her bright eyes glittering with unshed tears.

“Why am I not surprised about that? The Chantry sticking its nose into Grey Warden business,” Rayvin scoffed, shaking his head.

“I would have liked to have spoken to him one last time. I owed him an apology for what happened. Perhaps if I had been there, he never would have let Justice in. Perhaps they would have listened to me. Perhaps the world wouldn’t be in the state it’s in right now.”

“You can ‘what if’ and ‘perhaps’ yourself to death, cousin, but it won’t change the past. I wouldn’t have wanted Anders to be any other way than he was. As hard as it is to live without him, I wouldn’t change a moment of what we had together.” Rayvin spoke honestly, his heart bared for all to see.

A genuine smile curved Rihanna’s lips upwards. “Then I am happy for you. I must admit it’s odd to think of Anders with another man, even if you are family. He was an incorrigible flirt when he was an apprentice. After I’d conscripted him, he said all he ever wanted was a pretty girl, a decent meal, and the right to shoot lightning at fools.”

Rayvin chuckled. He could almost hear Anders speaking those words. “Then I think he had you fooled. You may have grown up with him in the Circle, dear cousin, but I knew him much more intimately.” A saucy grin crossed Hawke’s face. He wiggled his brows.

The trio chatted far into the wee hours of the night before they all turned in. Rihanna had given him a few letters to take back to Skyhold when he returned. One was for Leliana, one was for Cullen and the final one was for Inquisitor Trevelyan. Her stop in Crestwood had been a detour. She had discovered new information concerning her personal quest to free the Grey Wardens of the need for the Calling and had to follow up on the lead, knowing it would lead her far into the west. She knew she wouldn’t see Alistair for some time, which prompted her reunion with her love. She’d be heading out at first light and wouldn’t be present when Trevelyan met with Alistair.

As Rihanna rode out, Rayvin headed for the Inquisition camp he’d noticed when he reached Crestwood the previous day. He knew some of Leliana’s scouts and agents would be there. With the aid of an agent, he sent a coded message to Skyhold, giving the location of Alistair’s whereabouts.

He hastened back to the cave, intent on warning his friend about the two Wardens he had spotted. It seemed they were hunting Alistair. That didn’t bode well. He didn’t relish fighting them. It wasn’t their fault they were given bad orders.

Both he and Alistair remained in the cave for almost a week until Inquisitor Trevelyan, Cassandra, Varric and a bearded warrior wearing a griffon insignia breastplate joined them. Rayvin met them at the mouth of the cave and introduced Trevelyan to Alistair, but he didn’t stick around for the conversation. He excused himself, leaving the cave behind.

He walked out to the shoreline of Three Trout Pond, standing on the small dock. Rain still fell from the grey stormy skies, further drenching the saturated ground. He didn’t mind it, not really. It suited his mood, and the fact he’d run out of alcohol. Fuck, he needed a drink.

A noise registered in his ears from behind him. He listened intently, picking up clues as who it was. The light-footed gait, the muttered curses, and the click of something metallic.

“Seriously, who in their right mind comes to a place like this? Do you not smell that?”

Rayvin rolled his eyes, but he knew he couldn’t avoid Varric forever. “I smell the rain, nature and fresh clean air. This is much better than the stink of the foundries and the chokedamp wafting up from the sewers.”

“I don’t know about that, Hawke. This smells like you let your dog wallow in the sewers.” Varric flashed an unimpressed look at his friend. “I get it. This is where you’re from. No wonder everyone fled to Kirkwall during the Blight.”

Rayvin bit his tongue, swallowing what he would have said. He didn’t need to snap at Varric. That would only make things worse. He couldn’t resist poking at him, though. “No one said such an esteemed deshyr of the Kirkwall Merchant’s Guild had to come to a backwater place like this? I mean, what would people say?”

Varric chuckled softly before his expression sobered. “Listen, Hawke… I know what happened to Blondie hit you hard, but drowning in a bottle or biting everyone’s head off isn’t the answer.”

“I appreciate the concern, Varric, but don’t give me that ‘he’d want you to be happy and not drink yourself to death’ spiel. I’m fine.” Fire burned deep in Hawke’s eye. It had been a long time since he’d seen Hawke riled up this much. “Despite my reservations about the Inquisitor, I’ve decided to stick around after this Warden bullshit is dealt with. I want to kick Corypheus in the teeth again. Take him down once and for all. Show that magister asshole he fucked with the wrong person.”

Varric took note of the change in Hawke. What a difference a few days made. It made him wonder if something was behind this change. He’d heard chatter around Skyhold, mostly gossip among the soldiers and servants. He tucked that tidbit away for later. He’d just have to keep his eyes and ears open.

***

Lothering was gone, any attempts to rebuild the town had failed and the land finally abandoned the same year Rayvin was named Champion of Kirkwall. Only a wasteland existed now, blighted ground stretching as far as the eye could see. It was disheartening to see like this, much like it had been a decade ago when the family fled Ferelden.

Rayvin guided his horse past the ruins, skirting the Imperial Highway to the outskirts of the town. From this very spot he was exactly a half mile from the old Hawke homestead. At one point in his life he could walk the distance blindfolded.  Seeing what was left made him heavy-hearted.

He spent the night in the remains of the house he’d grown up in, though only one corner of it still stood. The parched wooden planks stood in stark relief against the setting sun. He pitched his tent, laid out his bedroll and pulled his journal from his pack. He used what light was left to write a long entry, pouring his heart out onto the pages. He mulled over the words he’d heard while he stood on the ledge. He still couldn’t make heads or tails of what they meant, but he wrote them down nonetheless. Maybe someday the meaning would be clear, but not today.

Rayvin looked forward to heading back to Skyhold, to seeing Cullen. He had not thought to discover something more than a casual acquaintance between himself and the Commander. He certainly found him attractive. There was something about Cullen that drew him like a bee to nectar. Maybe it was the eyes. Or that voice. Could be that scar that bisected his lip. He’d have to inquire how Cullen received it. Cullen didn’t have it yet when he’d joined Hawke against Meredith.

Or it could be something deeper. Cullen was always forthright. He said what he meant, and meant what he said. Honest to a fault. He stood up for what he believed in and fought to make the world a better place. Rayvin respected that. Even back in Kirkwall when they disagreed on the topic of mages, he had liked him. Not that he’d have admitted it openly. Anders would have had a field day.

One thing was for sure… he certainly had a type.

***

Chapter Text

Chapter Six: Demons, Blood Magic and Orlesians Oh My!

Rayvin met up with Alistair at the Inquisition’s forward camp in the Western Approach. According to Scout Harding, the Inquisitor and his small party were a day’s travel behind them. It was decided that he and Alistair would camp overnight to wait for them.

In the morning, though, they changed their minds and set out for the ritual tower, to scout the situation. They needed to know what the Warden mages were up to, if anything. After fighting their way through packs of hyenas, quillbacks, and raiders, they discovered the ritual tower was indeed living up to its name. Magic was being used, for what purpose they did not yet know. Rayvin hoped, however, the Inquisitor would join them soon so they could find out and put a stop to it.

When Trevelyan, Varric, Dorian and Blackwall arrived, Rayvin decided to hang back, to cover their backs while Alistair headed into the tower with them. He had a feeling blood magic was being worked. And he was correct. The blood of the fallen Warden warriors was being used to bind the demon army. It boded ill for them.

Blood magic. It was always blood magic.

Neither he nor Alistair was pleased about it. When the magister escaped, leaving the mages to deal with the Inquisition, a fight had ensued. A fight to the death. Rayvin was all too happy to deal with these mages as he had other blood mages.  

Once it was over, it fell to him and Alistair to scout out Adamant, an abandoned Grey Warden fortress that had stood at the edge of the Abyssal Rift since the Second Blight. However, it wasn’t abandoned anymore. The magister, Livius Erimond, and Warden-Commander Clarel were clearly planning something and it was up to the Inquisition to stop it. Hopefully that would be soon. Rayvin didn’t want to see the south fall to Corypheus’ demon army. He was tired of demons and rifts, but he vowed to continue to fight them if it afforded him the chance to meet Corypheus again. This time he wouldn’t rest until that ancient magister was dead, once and for all. Even if it killed him to do it.

Besides it took his mind away from other issues that troubled him. He needed that in order to retain his sanity. He couldn’t bring Anders back, but in his heart, he knew Anders would want him to be happy. He’d want him to move on. And thus, he would. He knew he had found someone he could move on with.

Rayvin looked forward to seeing Cullen, to spending time with him. Though he’d known the Commander for ten years, there were things about Cullen he didn’t know and wanted to find out. Things he was curious about. Something Cullen had said echoed in his thoughts. Had the ex-Templar been interested even back in Kirkwall or was this a new development. Rayvin wanted to find out.

What started as drunken flirting could possibly turn out to be so much more. He looked forward to it. He hoped Cullen felt the same.

***

The journey back to Skyhold took longer than he’d hoped. He and Alistair had encountered hordes of demons all over the place. While neither had the power to close rifts, they could certainly kill the demons. And advice the Inquisitor on the location of said rifts. It all went into Rayvin’s report.

A big grin broke out on his face as the road through the camp that had spread out at the base of Skyhold. He spurred on his horse, eager to see Cullen. After dropping his horse off at the stables, he quickly headed for the barracks to get cleaned up. He could have had a bath brought to the tower room he’d been given for the duration of his stay, but considering he’d trashed the room, he didn’t expect the servants to be very helpful. That didn’t bother him, not really. He knew he’d have to be more careful about his actions while he remained. Besides once he did officially join the Inquisition as an agent, he knew he couldn’t… shouldn’t expect special treatment.

He groaned aloud as he sank into the hot water. It felt so good on his tired muscles. I could stay this way forever , he mused. As much as he wanted to remain, he couldn’t. He had to give his report to the War Council. He was sure that would go over well. Hopefully it would just be Cullen, Leliana and Ambassador Montilyet. The Inquisitor, too. Afterwards he hoped Cullen would be free to spend some time with him. He had something in mind.

He washed quickly but thoroughly. He knew it would take a while for his hair to dry. It couldn’t be helped, though. It needed to be washed. Once he had rinsed off, he stood up and reached for a length of cotton toweling. He stepped out, drying off.

From behind he heard someone clearing their throat. He turned, his eyes meeting the warm amber eyes of the Commander. Rayvin smiled, wrapping the toweling around his waist.

Cullen rubbed the back of his neck, “So you are here. I had soldiers keeping an eye out for you. I checked your quarters, but you weren’t there.” He could feel the heat climbing up his cheeks.

Rayvin chuckled softly and crossed the distance between himself and Cullen. He leaned in and kissed him. Rayvin’s tongue immediately ran along the seam of Cullen’s lips. Delighted, Cullen opened to the exploring tongue. Gripping the back of Cullen’s head, Rayvin moaned as he took the kiss even deeper. Cullen felt the hard press of Rayvin’s cock against his thigh and reluctantly drew back.

“I…” Cullen cleared his throat, whispering against Rayvin’s lips, a split-second before kissing him. “I, ah, came to inquire if you’d be busy later.”

Thrusting his tongue into the depths of Rayvin’s mouth, Cullen brushed his palm down Rayvin’s bare chest. Rayvin quivered, reveling in the feel of being touched. It had been awhile. It made him ache. Made him want what he shouldn’t. It was most likely too soon. But maybe Cullen would be amenable to what he had in mind. Give him a taste of what could be. And then after Adamant, take things further.

Rayvin smiled. “I had hoped to spend the evening with you. Is that what you had in mind?”

Pulling back from Rayvin, Cullen gazed down into his eyes. “I would, ah, like that very much. I have cleared my schedule after the meeting in the War room. I trust you brought us information on what is happening at Adamant.”

Rayvin leaned in and captured Cullen’s lips once more in a kiss that fervently staked its claim on the Commander. He ravished Cullen’s mouth, allowing his kiss to become passionate and fierce in its intensity. He knew he should stop, should get the war council over with so they could move onto more pleasant things, but he just couldn’t help himself. Cullen was here right now and his kisses tasted so good.

“Mmm,” he moaned as he disengaged, panting heavily. “I’ve got what you need.”

Cullen chuckled at Hawke’s impudence. “We’ll see about that. I should let you get dressed. I’ll meet you in the War room shortly. I believe Leliana has some information from her agents that should prove useful.”

Rayvin turned away, giving Cullen a view of his backside as he dropped the towel and reached for his clothing. Cullen hissed out a curse at the sight of not only Hawke’s ass, but of the wings tattooed across his shoulder blades and the scars and lash marks across his lower back. He’d seen the one large scar that bisected Rayvin’s abdomen and realized the one on his back was in the same exact spot. Had he been run-through? When? And how was he still alive? Concern filled his eyes. He bit his lower lip, worrying it between his teeth.

Rayvin pulled on brown leather pants, knee high boots and an embroidered white and gold tunic bearing the Amell crest. He ran a brush through his hair, getting rid of the worst of the tangles. Finally he stuffed his things into his pack. He would drop that off in his room.

Cullen was still waiting for him when he finished. The blond had a smile on his face, along with a slight blush. Rayvin shook his head, trying not to laugh.

“Enjoying the view?”

Cullen glanced away, trying to be nonchalant about it, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Hawke. Maybe you should hurry up. Maker forbid you make anyone wait for you to show up.”

Rayvin laughed, flipping his hair over his shoulder. “But I'm so worth waiting for.”

Josephine and Leliana were chatting among themselves when Cullen and Rayvin walked into the Ambassador’s chamber. Leliana looked up, offering them a smile. “Good, you’re here. Shall we head into the War room?”

“Is it just the four of us or will Inquisitor Trevelyan be joining us?” Cullen inquired as he followed behind the two ladies. Rayvin kept pace with Cullen.

“He will not, but he sends his regards.” Josephine replied. “There was a matter that required his attention elsewhere. He and Seeker Pentaghast are dealing with it.”

“Did he say what the matter was?” Cullen’s brow furrowed. He knew Trevelyan had only just arrived back at Skyhold as well.

Leliana answered, “He did not offer many details, only that Cassandra has agreed to accompany him to Val Royeaux. There was a matter concerning a man named Ponchard de Lieux and the Pavus birthright. I believe he meant to recover it for Dorian.”

“Shall we get down to business then?” Hawke spoke up. His eagerness to get this over with hit a fever pitch.

***

Once the war council had ended, Cullen headed for the barracks, for his own bath. He and Rayvin agreed to meet in the Commander’s quarters. Rayvin made his way through the keep, whistling a happy tune. He headed down to the kitchens, where he managed to sweet-talk the head cook into giving him a small platter of finger foods, candied grapes, candied nuts and fruit. His next stop was the tavern, where he bought two bottles of Apple Ale. Finally from his pack, he grabbed a small vial of lavender scented massage oil and a bottle of an herbal brew Anders had taught him to make. It was good for calming nerves.

Rayvin made it to Cullen’s office before Cullen did. He smiled knowingly. It gave him time to set the tone for how the evening would go. He planned to woo the handsome ex-Templar. The way things had been progressing, he had the feeling that Cullen would be amenable to what he had in mind.

Up in Cullen’s loft, he made the bed, smoothing out the sheets and blankets. Then he laid out the things he’d gathered for the impromptu picnic. Lastly he made himself comfortable, removing his tunic and kicking off his boots.

Cullen joined him shortly thereafter. He had removed his armor, simply dressed in loose linen trousers and deep green tunic. He barred the doors leading into his office. He didn’t want to be disturbed tonight, for he knew this would be the last chance they had before Adamant to spend time alone like this. There was so much happening in the days to come. There was the masquerade ball at Halamshiral as well as the planned siege of Adamant.

Cullen climbed the ladder to his loft, finding Hawke seated on the floor, his back resting against the bed frame. Candles flickered from within the sconce on the wall as well as from the bedside stand. A few bottles and a tray of food were on the floor near Rayvin. He smiled at the scene before him. The ambience of romance left him speechless. He wasn’t quite sure what he had expected, but it certainly wasn’t this. Not that he minded. In fact, it flooded him with warmth. He realized the more he learned about  the man before him made him want to know more. That in itself was a pleasant surprise. He had not thought to find this… whatever this was… here and certainly not with Hawke. Nonetheless, he welcomed it.

Rayvin flashed a come-hither look, saucily patting the floor beside him. “Don’t stand there gawking,” he chuckled. “Join me.”

Cullen felt his throat go dry. He stammered as he crossed the distance between them, taking his place on the floor beside Rayvin. “Al - alright.”

“Relax, Cullen. I don’t bite… well, not hard, that is.” His joke elicited a chuckle from Cullen. He noticed it had the intended effect. “We’ve known each other for a long time. Nothing is going to happen that you aren’t comfortable with. So let’s just talk and enjoy each other’s company. Then we’ll see where the night takes us.”

A small smile crossed Cullen’s face. “Of all the things that I thought might happen when I joined the Inquisition, this wasn’t one of them. Any relations I’ve had in the past have been sporadic. For the longest time I was too angry, too consumed by what happened at Ferelden’s Circle, to get involved with anyone. I finally feel I can put that behind me. I’m not proud of the man it made me, but it led me here. I have no regrets about that. What about you?”

Rayvin licked his lips, “Anders once told me about what happened there during the Blight. He said he wasn’t in the tower during Uldred’s coup because he had escaped prior to it, but once he became a Warden, Rihanna filled him in on the details. Oh, that reminds me…”

He grabbed up a sealed envelope from the tray and handed it to Cullen. “This is from Rihanna. I met her in Crestwood. She was there with Alistair. Don’t let me forget to pass on the other letters I have for Leliana and the Inquisitor.”

A surprised look crossed Cullen’s face. “She was in Crestwood? I would have liked to have seen her again. She saved my life. I would be dead or mad if it weren’t for her. I was in a sorry state when she found me. The things I said were… unkind, untoward. I regret them now. I wish she knew that.”

“I suspect she does. We spoke of you. She inquired about how you’re doing. Said she was glad that you’d found a home, a purpose within the Inquisition.” Rayvin smiled. “It’s more than obvious she’s an Amell. She has a temper.”

“Amell yelled at you, did she? What for?” Cullen’s amber eyes shone with mirth.

“I figured that would be fairly obvious,” Rayvin chuckled. “She was angry about Anders and the mage rebellion and since he’s not here for her to yell at, she took it out on me. Considering that she asked the Circle be granted autonomy as her boon from the Queen at the end of the Fifth Blight, I thought she of all people would understand.”

Cullen set the letter aside, as much as he wanted to read it he knew it could wait. He’d rather focus his attention on the here and now. “I must admit there was… some youthful infatuation on my part. A feeling I had forsaken until recently.”

A fond smile crossed Rayvin’s face. He hadn’t thought he’d be interested in something more than a tumble, not after Anders. But he was looking forward to seeing where this took him. Given their histories, and their personal view on many things, he realized what a huge step this was for Cullen… for himself.

“I’ve always been very open about what I like. And don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve never struck me as someone who’d be interested in a man. Honestly, you have surprised me… quite pleasantly.”

Cullen rubbed the back of his neck. He wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. On the one hand, Hawke was right. He hadn’t ever been attracted to other men, hadn’t ever pictured himself being with a man, despite the fact a few people had whispered about unresolved tensions between himself and the Tevinter mage, Dorian. It wasn’t true. Dorian, much like Hawke, was a shameless flirt, but on his part it went no further than that. There had also been the time that Trevelyan expressed an interest back in Haven, but Cullen had politely turned him down. That hadn’t stop Trevelyan from continuing to flirt. Cullen swore Trevelyan did it just to see him blush.

There was something about Rayvin that drew him closer, made him want to get closer. There was so much he wanted to know. It was apparent that Rayvin felt the same.

He chuckled low in his throat, felt warmth spread through him. “I’ve surprised myself. I have to admit I’ve always felt drawn to you, even back in Kirkwall. I don’t have to tell you how charismatic you are or that people gravitate to you. I suppose I am no different. It goes deeper than that. You’ve always stood up for what you believe in. I admire that.”

“Good to know.” He smiled then changed the subject… sort of. He leaned in close, his fingers tracing lazy circles on the fabric of Cullen’s tunic. “So in all the time you were in Kirkwall, there was never anyone...”

“I can’t say I was looking.” Cullen smirked. He knew what Rayvin was fishing for. “It doesn’t mean I was celibate.”

“So I heard. Brennan insinuated having her world rocked by a certain Knight-Captain and I seem to recall seeing you at the Blooming Rose quite a bit.”

Cullen chuckled, “Brennan is a friend. She understood the burdens of command that I dealt with and was willing to ease those burdens. As for the being seen at the Rose, those visits had more to do with making sure they weren’t hiding any mages. After that debacle with Wilmod and Keran, Meredith cracked down on the recruits. On all of us, to be truthful. I suppose you were there for a different reason.”

A lopsided grin graced Rayvin’s handsome face, “You could say that. I spent more time there than I care to admit. Don’t get the wrong idea, though. I was usually drinking, not partaking of the workers. Of course, Madame Lusine threw her best people at me, on a regular basis. When I said I wasn’t interested in their services, because by that point Anders and I were in a committed relationship, she refused to serve me any alcohol. So in addition to paying my Uncle Gamlen’s tab and Isabela’s, every few days, I’d pay for an hour or so of Jethann’s time and get a massage. Jethann had wonderful hands, very strong. Anders knew and didn’t mind. He trusted me.”

Rayvin opened one of the Apple Ale bottles and took a sip, then grabbed up a few candied grapes. They were sweet in contrast to the hard bite of the ale. “There is something else I’ve wondered about.”

“What might that be?” He extended his hand to reach for the other bottle Rayvin brought. “I assume this one is mine.”

“Uh-huh, it’s just ale. If you aren’t interested in that, this bottle here is an herbal mixture, chamomile, elfroot, rose hips and embrium.” Rayvin replied as he softly traced the scar above Cullen’s lip. “What I meant to ask… this scar, how did you get it? It wasn’t there the last time I saw you.”

Cullen exhaled a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. “It happened shortly after the battle in the Gallows. After I allowed you and your companions to leave, things became chaotic. I was trying to command what was left of Kirkwall’s templars. Since we’ve begun to discuss scars, what about this one?” He ran his fingers over the long scar bisecting Hawke’s midsection.

Rayvin chuckled, “That’s a good one, isn’t it? That is from the Arishok. He ran me clear through and picked me up. He threw me off the blade. I hit one of the columns in the throne room. I don’t know how I survived that fight. Once he was dead, I remember staggering to my feet, and Meredith proclaiming I was the new Champion, but after that, I don’t remember much of anything. I was literally a dead man walking. It took every bit of Anders’ skill at healing to keep me alive.” He ran his hand over the scar. “I have the sword he used during that duel. It’s hanging above one of the fireplaces at my estate in Kirkwall.”

“And the tattoos? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like them.”

“I take it you’ve never met a pirate before.” Rayvin winked at him as Cullen shook his head. “All of these came from the months I spent on Isabela’s ship.”

He ran his fingers over his upper left arm. Upon it was a tattoo of a hawk. “This one is pretty self explanatory. It’s a hawk. Same with the wings on my back. Hawk wings. Same for the hawk across my chest. The sun tattoo is for Bethany. Varric always called her ‘Sunshine.’ The mabari is a given. I’m Ferelden. But there’s a deeper meaning. Before Ostagar, my brother, Carver, got a tattoo of a mabari. He said it was for strength. Carver died before we made it to Kirkwall. Killed by a fucking Ogre. A year and a half later, Bethany died in the Deep Roads. She contracted the Blight sickness. Anders hadn’t been with us. He hated the Deep Roads, so instead of him going, I asked Fenris. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was kill her, put her out of her misery.”

Cullen sighed deeply. “Given the situation, though, it was probably a kindness. I do know how you feel. Neither my mother or father survived the Blight. Honnleath had been overrun, not very many people survived. The rest of my family moved to South Reach. I know it is of no comfort, but we knew about your sister. I was unaware you and she had left on that expedition when I visited the house in Lowtown where you lived. If she had been there, you know she would have been taken to the Circle. Viscount Dumar stepping in kept your family from being arrested for harboring her.”

Rayvin scowled slightly. “You do realize we wouldn’t be sitting here now if I had been there when you came to take her away. Mother would have lost two children. I would have fought to the death to protect her, to keep her from being taken away.”

“I hesitate to ask whose death, but if she had been taken to the Gallows, at least she’d be alive right now.” Cullen added, knowing it wasn’t a pleasant subject for Hawke. “You grew up with a mage parent and had a sister who was a mage. Wasn’t that dangerous for your family? How was it that neither were caught?”

“We moved around a lot. When I was thirteen, we settled in Lothering, lived there until the Blight. Father was very gifted. His skill, especially with healing, was extraordinary. The only mage I’ve ever met who surpassed him was Anders. He taught Bethany well, how to remain undetected. She resented being ‘cursed’ with magic. She hated not being normal. She was never fully able to embrace her magic the way Father had, or even Anders. A shame because she was gifted. I miss her, miss them all. I don’t have any family left, unless you count Uncle Gamlen, but I don’t.”

“You have your friends. There are people who value you more than you think,” Cullen said in a low voice. He lowered his eyes then flicked them back up again meeting Rayvin’s intense gaze. Staring deeply into Hawke’s eyes he whispered, “You have me.” 

Rayvin’s eyes smoldered. Cullen swallowed thickly. If his hands hadn’t been on the floor, he knew they’d be shaking. Without conscious thought, Cullen moved close until his lips hovered, hesitating.

“You’re thinking too much.” Rayvin’s low whisper shredded the last vestige of his control. With a low groan, Cullen closed the distance.

He pulled back to create a small space between them and took his left hand from the floor to bring it to the side of Rayvin’s face.

Rayvin’s eyes reflected the same heat and anticipation that he felt, and something ... more. Cullen froze. That had never been there before, had it?

Rayvin held his gaze, and there was that something again. And for the first time, Cullen understood. Rayvin whispered raggedly, “Please don’t stop. I’d rather not make the walk of shame back to my room with blue balls. Alistair would have a field day.”

Bringing his other hand up to frame Rayvin’s face, Cullen let himself go.

Hunger and desire roared in his ears as he sucked Rayvin’s lower lip into his mouth. He bit down roughly and then traced the soft, lush skin with his tongue.

Rayvin groaned and began frantically working on removing Cullen’s tunic. When he had it off, he tossed it to the floor. He grumbled around nips and licks about “too many clothes,” and Cullen couldn’t help laughing. He had never felt so happy or so alive in his entire life.

Rayvin bit Cullen’s lip sharply and then sucked the spot into his mouth to soothe. He arched a warning brow. “Laugh it up, Cullen. I’m the one doing all the work here.”

“I think we would be more comfortable...somewhere else,” Cullen murmured. He kissed Rayvin again, then came up for air. He took Rayvin’s hand as he stood up, pulling him gently and walking him to the bed as he continued to kiss and nip at his neck and behind his ear. Breathing heavily, he finally sat on the mattress, Hawke doing the same quickly after. Cullen moved against him to take him in his arms again, leaning towards Rayvin to capture his lips. 

They explored each other, curiously, hungrily. Cullen moved to kiss a path along Rayvin’s jaw to the base of his ear. He rubbed his face against the soft skin of Rayvin’s neck and then opened his mouth and nipped at the sensitive spot. Rayvin arched into him. Rayvin ran his hands down the length of Cullen’s chest, and Cullen’s breath caught in his throat. He closed his eyes, clenching his jaw. Rayvin’s touch was enough to make him come just like this. But Cullen wanted so much more. He pressed his body into Rayvin’s, against the bed, and they both groaned at the rough contact.

“Cullen.”

Rayvin pulled back far enough to look down the long length of Cullen’s chest and torso to where his cock arched proudly between them. Rayvin’s mouth watered, and he slowly licked his lips. He brought a hand to rest on Cullen’s collarbone and slowly slid south, his thumb tracing a path down the center of his lover’s torso until his hand rested flat on Cullen’s lower abdomen, inches from paradise.

Cullen groaned. “Maker, Rayvin.”

Rayvin slid his other hand along the length of Cullen’s ribcage and back up, brushing a thumb across Cullen’s nipple. Rayvin smiled at Cullen’s shuddered breath. He brought his hand down again and allowed it to rest on his lover’s hip. He wanted this, so much he could hardly believe he was holding Cullen in his arms, touching him, making him hard. On that last thought, Rayvin moved down the length of Cullen’s body.

Cullen’s cock jumped eagerly in front of Rayvin’s lips. The skin on Cullen’s cock had pulled back, revealing the large, rounded head. Rayvin greedily eyed the small bead of pre-cum that oozed out of the tip, and he felt Cullen’s hand thread through his hair. It was all the encouragement he needed.

He leaned in and swirled his tongue around the hard tip. The salty liquid was ambrosia, and Rayvin opened his mouth wide, in a quest for more. As inch after slow inch of Cullen’s cock slid past his lips, Rayvin’s own cock throbbed. Rayvin savored the hard, complete sensation of Cullen filling him. He took a firm grip on Cullen’s ass and held him as he explored with his mouth. Cullen was longer than most. Rayvin relaxed his throat and took Cullen’s cock all the way to the balls. Then he swallowed. Cullen’s shuddered groan sounded pained.

He moved slowly up and down, sucking Cullen hard and making him writhe. Rayvin took the shaft deep and moaned, humming low in his throat.

Cullen made a strangled sound and his grip in Rayvin’s hair tightened. His hips, which had been thrusting shallowly against Rayvin’s hands, started moving more powerfully, forcing a faster pace.

Rayvin felt the urgency as well and began to move up and down on Cullen’s shaft with purpose. Drawing hard, with a flick of tongue in just the right place, it wasn’t long before Cullen gasped a warning.

“Maker, Ray - Rayvin, I’m -” Rayvin took him in all the way. The sound of Cullen’s groans made his own cock pulse almost painfully. Cullen began to spurt into his mouth, and Rayvin eagerly swallowed his lover’s cum. With Cullen’s cock still in his mouth, Rayvin dropped a shaky hand to his own throbbing cock, and it only took a few firm strokes before he was coming harder than he could remember in recent memory. They collapsed together on the bed and it was long moments before either recovered enough to speak.

Cullen brought a hand up to cup Rayvin’s face, and Rayvin met his eyes with a smug smile. Rayvin cocked a brow, still breathless.

Cullen chuckled, breathing heavily. “Maker, that was - “

“Incredible?” Rayvin replied with a cocky grin.

Cullen snuggled closer, pulling Rayvin to his chest. “Yes. It was,” he simply stated.

Rayvin closed his eyes, yawning softly. The day had been long, had worn on him. If it had been any other day, he’d have kept going. There was always one more favor or one more drink. He’d run until exhaustion forced him to stop. Here and now, however, all he wanted was to curl up with this incredible man and forget the world existed, if only for a little while. “Do you mind if I sleep here tonight?”

Cullen rested his forehead against Rayvin’s. “I would like that.”

Rayvin rested on his side, allowing Cullen to spoon him. It felt good, not to be alone.

His dreams did not haunt him at all.

***

Halamshiral, to say the least, turned out to be a giant sack of assholes. Rayvin hated everything about being there from the moment he stepped onto the grounds of the Winter Palace. All the more fitting that he intended to crash the party. The fact that he was with the Inquisition didn’t seem to matter to him. Oh, he promised Cullen he wouldn’t make a scene or cause a fuss, but being on his best behavior wasn’t in the cards. Not really. As long as the Inquisition fulfilled its mission of saving Empress Celene from an assassination plot, it really shouldn’t matter what he did.

He entered the ballroom alongside Cullen. Apparently anyone of note was being presented to the Empress. When they learned who he was, he was quickly added to the list, to be announced after the Inquisitor and his entourage.

Rayvin waited patiently for his cue, heading down the stairs when it came. “And now presenting, Lord Rayvin Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall. Scion of the Amell Family, Veteran of the Battle of Ostagar, Deep Roads Explorer and Vanquisher of the Qunari Arishok.”

Rayvin strutted down the length of the dance floor as if he owned it, looking resplendent in his black and white silk attire. He bowed to the Empress, who regally inclined her head.

“Champion, we welcome you to the Winter Palace. Your arrival at court is an unexpected delight.”

Rayvin smirked at her. The way she smiled it looked like her face might crack. “You are too kind, Your Imperialness. Do you always greet Fereldans with such grace?”

“Our two nations have been at peace for decades, Champion. I hold Queen Anora in the highest esteem. She is the solitary rose among the brambles.” The Empress replied, keeping her composure, though her eyes flashed for a split second.

“Was high esteem the reason you sought to regain the lost province of Ferelden through marriage, and not war?” Rayvin asked before tossing his hair over his shoulder and walking away before she could answer.

Ha! Suck on that!

Rayvin knew his dig at the Empress would most likely earn him the enmity of the court and get him thrown out, but it would be worth it. He didn’t give a rat’s ass what these stinking poncy fops thought of him.

Passing by an elven servant, he snatched two ornate goblets filled with wine from the tray she’d been carrying and made his way over to Cullen. Not so surprisingly, the Commander had attracted a following. It was to be expected, however. Cullen was a very attractive man.

He handed a glass to Cullen before taking a sip of his. “I see everyone desires the attention of the handsome Commander,” Rayvin smirked. “Have you told them you are spoken for? I’d hate to have to fight a duel. Actually, that’s not completely true. I’d love to fight a duel. Show these painted assholes how a real man deals with matters.”

Cullen leveled an annoyed look upon Rayvin, hissing at him in a tense voice. “Is it too much to expect that you would behave? We can’t afford to fail at completing our mission.”

Rayvin winked at him, “I’ll consider it. How about you persuade me?”

Cullen sighed as a headache developed behind his eyes. He should have known better than to agree to Rayvin’s request of accompanying them to the ball. “How about you stop being an ass? Is that too much to ask?”

“Don’t speak to me like I’m some sycophant riding the Inquisition’s coattails. I’m famous… er, infamous in my own right. I am the Champion and I’ve always done what suited me.” Then he walked away, grinning smugly. Rayvin was determined to prove The Game had nothing on him.

***

He sauntered around the ballroom, making idle chatter with the members of the Inquisition in attendance and drinking more wine. After a while, he found Varric chatting with several people in a lower garden.

“I see that Cullen isn’t the only one who has attracted a following. Who are all these people?” Rayvin asked, curling his upper lip at the small entourage of people flanking Varric.

“Members of the Council of Heralds. They’ve been asking for autographs.” Varric remarked. “I didn’t know my books sold so well in Orlais. Remind me to have a word with my publisher. The first word is going to be ‘You’ and the second will be ‘Bastard’.”

Rayvin laughed. “Want me to punch him for you?”

“I don’t think that will be necessary, Hawke. You can’t punch your way through everything,” Varric chuckled.

“When has that ever stopped me?” He laughed again before wandering away into the Fumeur, where he listened to a few nobles trying to figure out a riddle. Chuckling, he provided the answer then moved to the other side of the room.  

The nobleman followed him, sneering from behind his mask. “I should expect a Dog Lord to stick his nose where it isn’t wanted.”

Rayvin leveled an smug look upon him. “Is your ass jealous of the amount of shit that just came out of your mouth?”

“How rude! I expected no less from an uncivilized barbarian!” The noble wrinkled his nose, as if he smelled something bad, and flounced away.

Laughing out loud, he returned to Varric’s side. “Ya know, Varric, I’d very much like to see the world from this lot’s point of view, but I just can’t seem to get my head that far up my ass.”

Hawke’s insult made Varric chuckle. He could tell Rayvin was having way too much fun, had probably drank way too much for this early in the evening, but calling him out about it never had any effect, so Varric left it alone.

After a while, Rayvin wandered away, returning to the Guest Wing. He mingled among the courtiers and nobles until he noticed someone he recognized.

“Champion,” the man sneered. “How very brave of you to come here, of all places.”

“Lord Cyril, I almost didn’t recognize you. You look so different when you’re not on your knees.” Rayvin smugly taunted. “What a shame.”

“It’s Duke now. I have you to thank for that.”

“Don’t thank me. It was my pleasure.” His upper lip curled into a sneer that would match any Orlesian nobles resplendently. “How does it feel, Cyril? Being all grown up and still trying to fit into daddy’s armor.” Rayvin plucked at the golden medallion around Cyril’s neck.

Cyril retorted, batting Rayvin’s hand away, “Your mother would be turning over in her grave if she could see what you’ve become. There is also no doubt in my mind that your grandfather would cut off your branch of the family tree. Maker rest both of their souls.”

Rayvin’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “At least they didn’t have to scrape my mother’s brains off a mountainside. How pleasant this meeting was, much like the last one. I think I liked you better on your knees, begging for the chance to suck off the Champion. I think we’re done here.”

Fighting the urge to punch Cyril in the mouth again, he walked away. He had to remind himself this wasn’t Chateau Haine and he really didn’t want to make Cullen mad, not for a bit of fun. However, if he did, he was sure he could find a very delightful way to make it up to him.

By the end of the ball, the Inquisitor had succeeded in thwarting the assassination attempt of the Empress’s life, had exposed the would-be assassin and convinced the three feuding leaders to work together for the security of the Empire.

Thus he had bested Corypheus once again.

As for Rayvin, he had gotten smashingly drunk, threw a goblet full of wine into the masked face of the Dowager and ended up being escorted out by several armed chevaliers. It didn’t matter to him, though. He had had a ball at the ball.

Pissing off Orlesians…

Priceless.

***

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven: Discord

Spirits were running high among the Inquisition over the victory at Halamshiral. Goals were met and favors were gained. Most of all, they had gained the sincere thanks of the most powerful woman in all of Thedas. Inquisitor Trevelyan had Empress Celene eating out of his hand. It was a triumph they sorely needed.

Along with Celene’s eternal gratitude came the appointment of her very own occult advisor to serve as liaison to the Inquisition. Morrigan was a talented witch well versed in many forgotten and forbidden forms of magic. Trevelyan viewed her help as a boon, though others sneered and rolled their eyes at her very presence.

Through Leliana, Trevelyan discovered they had adventured together during the Fifth Blight. Leliana’s lips dripped with venom despite her calm tone as she spoke of the difference ten years had made. Perhaps it was Kieran. But the most shocking pieces of information came from Alistair and Morrigan after a great deal of questioning. Details of why and how were vague and ambiguous at best, but it was through a ritual performed on the eve of battle that allowed the Hero of Ferelden to survive killing the Archdemon.

It was left to Trevelyan’s imagination as to what the ritual consisted of, but knowing that Kieran was the result, he surmised it had to be some form of magic. He wasn’t a mage and it certainly wasn’t anything he had ever heard of, but it seemed it had lent credence that Morrigan’s claim of having studied the oldest forms of magic. Morrigan wasn’t wrong, though. It did behoove them to add to their arcane arsenal so her being at Skyhold was welcomed.

Trevelyan wished he could say that was true about everyone who had come to help. The Champion had become a thorn in his side, especially after his behavior at the Winter Palace. His personality certainly left a bad taste in his mouth. It further disturbed him that rumors of a blossoming romance between the Champion and the Commander had reached his ears. That definitely needed to be nipped in the bud. Cullen was a good, reasonable man who was going through a hard time. He didn’t need Hawke dragging him down. If he talked to Cullen and expressed his concerns, perhaps he’d be willing to listen.

With that in mind, he left his quarters and headed for Cullen’s office.

***


Maps of the Western Approach, various reports and detailed records of Adamant’s construction were spread out across Cullen’s desk. Two men were leaned over the desk, heads so close they were almost touching, pouring over plans for the upcoming battle. Their voices were soft, their eyes flicking up to meet the others every few seconds as they discussed the best placement of the trebuchets.

The heat between them was undeniable. It climbed up the Commander’s neck and pooled in his loins at the same time, causing a delicious ache. Cullen hadn’t been pleased with Rayvin’s behavior at the Winter Palace, reprimanding him with a few terse words, but let it go after Rayvin made it up to him when they’d stolen a few moments alone afterwards. It seemed Cullen couldn’t stay mad at Hawke for very long. Which was a good thing. Being mad at him would never have allowed for moments like this when they were so close and working in perfect harmony.

Much to Cullen’s delight, Hawke had an amazing grasp of battle plans, tactics and placement of troops. He hadn’t expected Hawke to be so knowledgeable. He had always thought Hawke had made split-second decisions in reaction to whatever was happening at the time, but now he could see he was wrong. In all the battles Hawke had fought, it was now easy to see there had always been a plan. It wasn’t all Hawke making it up as he climbed his way to the top. Some had actually been thought out. It made Cullen feel better about Hawke’s decision to join the Inquisition as one of Cullen’s agents. Hawke’s prowess and expertise would be an asset to their cause.

Besides, if he had ever had any doubts about what was happening between himself and Hawke, they had all disappeared, whisked away like dust in the wind. He was ready… for more… for whatever may come.  

Cullen cleared his throat softly, his eyes locking with Rayvin’s. A small smile crossed his face, heat surging up his neck into his cheeks, as a certain memory came to mind. Rayvin took notice, chuckling softly. “I take it you have more on your mind than trebuchets and battering rams.”

Cullen closed his eyes for a moment, inhaling a deep breath. When he opened them back up, glancing at Rayvin, he licked his lips. “I - I, ah, don’t want to wait until after Adamant. We don’t know what will happen.”

Cullen’s admission surprised him. It filled him with happiness. “Are you sure?” Rayvin asked as he moved around the desk to Cullen’s side, resting his ass against the desk. As much as he wanted Cullen, as much as he wanted to hear those words, he wanted to make sure Cullen was for certain. Once they crossed that line, there was no going back.

“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my entire life,” Cullen whispered, closing the distance between them.

Cullen's heart pounded wildly as he pulled Rayvin into his embrace, leaning forward to capture his lips. For a moment, Rayvin felt like he might drown in Cullen’s amber eyes, and then very gently he began to kiss him, tenderly at first, then as Cullen responded, Rayvin plied him with a firmer kiss, warm and sweet, long and skillful. Rayvin slipped his hands free, allowed them to brush upwards, tracking the contours of Cullen’s armored arms and shoulders until he could wrap his arms around Cullen’s neck and deepened the kiss even more. Rayvin flicked his tongue against Cullen’s, and was rewarded by the feel of his arms tightening around him, pulling his body flush, making him more aware than ever how potent his desire was.

Rayvin’s lips grazed Cullen’s neck before he nipped his ear. Taking control, Rayvin embraced Cullen fully before capturing his lips with a demanding kiss. He softly moaned, his lips brushing against Cullen’s. Quick intakes of breath fluttered between them as he felt Cullen’s touch, his fingers raking through his hair. He held Cullen tight, tilting his head back, as his mouth plundered Cullen’s, taking it with a succession of slow, brief, tormenting kisses. Cullen writhed, shaking from the pleasure of this kiss and the thrill of being here with him. Rayvin tasted of expensive brandy, his ministrations drugging his senses with aching desire. Cullen clung to him with something akin to desperation, so out of control that he couldn’t begin to hide the emotions Rayvin brought to life. Cullen burned with want of him, throbbed and trembled as a pool of heat bubbled and churned within him, threatening to devour them both.

But the nasal screech of a familiar male voice acted like a bucket of ice cold water, effectively cooling their ardor. Trevelyan had pushed open the door and strode in, his voice carrying. “CULLEN!”

“What?” He growled, unthinking, his eyes boring a searing hole into the Inquisitor.

Trevelyan rocked from one foot to the other, then swaggered into the room, his eyes blazing at the very intimate scene before him. This had to stop. He couldn’t bear the thought of Cullen wasting his time on someone like Hawke. He could do so much better. Especially after Cullen had turned him down. He felt affronted over the rejection and had hoped Cullen would have eventually come around.

“Cullen, we need to talk.” He spoke in a very assertive tone. “Now!”

Rayvin stepped out of Cullen’s embrace, moving to the other side of the desk. He crossed his arms in front of his chest, glaring at the Inquisitor. It didn’t take a genius to figure out why the man was here. He glanced from Trevelyan to Cullen and back. The expression on Cullen’s face, the fire in his eyes, clearly matched his own. The Inquisitor was sticking his nose where it didn’t belong.

Cullen clenched his jaw, reminding himself as much as he wanted to admonish him sternly for this interruption he knew he could not. The man was his boss after all, but that didn’t mean he had any say in who he spent his time with. “About what, Inquisitor?”

Trevelyan’s eyes flicked to Rayvin before meeting Cullen’s once more. “I think you already know. Hawke, I need a few minutes with my Commander so if would kindly excuse us.”

Cullen sighed, “If this concerns him, I think he has a right to be here.” He would not be strong-armed by anyone. He had just as much right to be happy as anyone else.

Trevelyan’s eyes narrowed, “I gave an order and I expect it to be respected and followed.”

A bitter laugh slipped from Rayvin’s lips. He bowed dramatically and sneered, his upper lip curling, “As you wish, Your Worship.” On his way out, he blew a kiss at Cullen and slammed the door shut.

Trevelyan rolled his eyes and sighed. He stepped closer to Cullen’s desk, leaning his palms against it. “Seriously, Cullen? Do you honestly believe this is best for you? Hawke, of all people. You have enough trouble of your own without adding someone like him to your burdens. You are better than that.”

“I respectfully disagree, Inquisitor. Hawke is the Champion of Kirkwall and is a better man than you give him credit for.” Cullen stared him down, unflinching.

“Is he? I can’t even imagine what you see in him. I’m trying to understand, to not be offended after you turned me down, but this I find offensive. He’s a wreck, a thug, a bloody alcoholic, an absolute nightmare. Have you any idea what his antics at the Winter Palace have cost us? Josephine is in a tizzy trying to smooth things over with the Council of Heralds. You could do so much better.”

“And with whom would that be? You? I have known Hawke for ten years. My interest in him has more to do with the person I’ve come to know over those years. We have common ground. That is something you and I do not share.” Cullen rubbed the back of his neck. “Perhaps if you stop antagonizing him, you’ll see he isn’t as bad as you have made him out to be.”

Trevelyan huffed, his voice raising an octave or two, “Apparently I haven’t done enough because that Maker-damned megalomaniac is still here. Can’t you see he’s using you?”

Cullen clenched his jaw even harder, his teeth gritting. Anger flashed through his eyes. He placed his hand on the hilt of his sword, gripping it tightly. “My personal life is not up for discussion here. I have every right to see whoever I want, even if it is Hawke. The fact that he is male had nothing to do with my decision to become involved with him. It’s just because he’s Hawke.” Cullen’s voice dropped an octave. He tilted his head and stared dreamily into the distance for a moment before glancing back at Trevelyan. “He has a presence that draws people to him. I find I am not immune to that.”

“Ugh,” Trevelyan rolled his eyes. That was not what he wanted to hear.

“I’m not normally one to repeat things, but since we are digging into personal lives. I thought I heard a rumor about you and Dorian. Didn’t you retrieve his birthright from a merchant in Val Royeaux?”

Trevelyan pursed his lips, “Dorian is a dear friend, but there is nothing romantic between us. No merchant should have a nobleman’s birthright. I had just hoped if I gave you time to get to know me that you’d come around. I was wrong.”

“I appreciate your concern and interest, but what it’s just not meant to be. What I do in my private time and whom I chose to do it with is my business. I hope this will not affect our working relationship.”

Trevelyan shook his head, knowing he wouldn’t be able to convince him, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t say his piece. “Have it your way, Cullen. I would rather not see you hurt, but don’t say I warned you when that egomaniac tosses you aside once he’s gotten what he wants.”

He stormed away, planning to have a similar talk with the Champion.

***

Rayvin headed for the main hall of the keep. Varric wasn’t present at the moment. Rayvin shrugged and entered the rotunda where a bald elf sat pouring over a large tome. He cleared his throat as he approached, “Pardon me, you are Solas, yes?”

Solas glanced up, his steely gaze fixing on Rayvin. “I am. How may I help you, Champion?”

“By not calling me Champion,” Rayvin sighed. “Hawke will suffice. I have heard that you are the one to talk to about magical bloodlines.”

Solas’ brow furrowed.  

“In a certain way. Do you require my help?”

“Magic runs heavily in my family. I don’t have the gift, but my father and younger sister were both mages. Given that, can magic develop in anyone?” Rayvin ventured cautiously.

“It is rare for two mages to be born in a bloodline. In this case, however, it is quite common. You are asking if you could develop a magical talent later, am I right?”

“I was curious. I have a cousin who is a mage and all of her siblings were mages as well. It was probably a silly question. I’ve spent my life around magic.” Rayvin replied as he pulled up a chair and took a seat.

“Not a silly question at all, but a rather good one. The fact that your cousin and all her siblings were mages is extremely rare. Was your cousin a Hawke as well, then? Or did she belong to your mother’s side of the family?”

“No, she’s an Amell, from my mother’s side. She’s the Hero of Ferelden.”

“She is? That is extraordinary. She is the Hero, you are the Champion. I must say that your family is an excellent source of interesting people, magic or no. It is the first time I’ve encountered both sides of a family who carry magic in their blood. Fascinating.”

“I appreciate it more now than when I was younger.” Rayvin smiled fondly. “Let me ask you something else. I have a Dalish friend who was trying to restore an eluvian during her time in Kirkwall. Do you know anything about them?”

“An eluvian,” Solas frowned, his brows furrowed. “I have never seen one if that is your question. I hear the ancient elves used it as a means of transportation, although I cannot say if this is true or not.”

“Merrill could never make it work. She thought she could learn about the past -” 

Trevelyan swept into the rotunda, his countenance stormy. Eyes flashed at the sight of Rayvin chatting amicably with Solas. “You!” He exclaimed.

Solas leveled a stern look upon him while Rayvin rolled his eyes. It didn’t take a genius to realize who he was referring to. “I assume you are referring to me, Inquisitor.”

Now it was Trevelyan’s turn to roll his eyes. “Well I certainly wasn’t referring to Solas. Unlike you, I happen to respect him,” he calmly stated. “You might think you’re funny, but you’re not. It’s actually sad to see a grown man behave the way you do. If you think you can take my Commander from me, you’re sadly mistaken.”

Hawke stood up, crossing his arms in front of his chest once more. “Ah, the plot thickens. You want what I have and that threatens you. Cullen isn’t yours and never will be. Knowing him as I do, he wouldn’t be very pleased with this little song and dance. He’s not an object to be fought over. Despite the fact I find this is entertaining, Inquisitor, but I also find it tragic. Little noble boy having a tantrum because he can’t have what he wants. Do yourself a favor, Trevelyan, back off. I won’t repeat myself twice.”

Trevelyan threw his arms up into the air, an exasperated expression on his handsome face. “You think this about me not getting what I want. I’m more concerned about his well being. Cullen has been going through a difficult time since he joined the Inquisition. He has stopped taking lyrium. The headaches and the withdrawal symptoms have been hard on him. He doesn’t need the likes of you making it worse.”

The color drained out of Rayvin’s face. Cullen hadn’t told him any of this. He licked his lips as his mind struggled with the revelation Trevelyan had dropped on him.

“You didn’t know.” Trevelyan smugly remarked. “Strange that he didn’t tell you.”

Solas who had been quiet thus far spoke up as he noticed the heated exchange between the two warriors had drawn interest from the library above. “Perhaps you should take this somewhere more private. The Commander would not wish details of his personal life made public.”

Rayvin nodded at the elven mage. “Thank you, Solas. I should speak with Cullen.”

He headed back in the direction of Cullen’s tower and Trevelyan left the rotunda, passing Varric who was standing in the hallway between the main hall and Solas’ rotunda.

“Well, that was bracing.” Varric quipped as he joined Solas, wearing a concerned look on his face.

“Indeed,” Solas agreed. “I have never seen the Inquisitor treat an ally in such an unflattering manner. He has never struck me as someone who’d be swayed by petty jealousy. Perhaps I shall speak to him once he has calmed down.”

“If you think it’ll work, Chuckles, be my guest.”

***

Rayvin’s long-legged strides ate up the distance between the rotunda and Cullen’s tower. He yanked open the door and strode into the room purposefully, his face an angry mask.

“You’re back,” Cullen looked up from the report he was reading.

“Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?”

Cullen startled at Rayvin’s tone, his eyes widening. “Tell you what?”

“That you stopped taking lyrium. You couldn’t tell me. This wasn’t important enough to confide in me. I had to hear it from Trevelyan.”

Cullen ran a hand over his  brow, sweeping a finger and thumb down to pinch the bridge of his nose. “I have been meaning to tell you. I would not have you worry needlessly. This is my struggle.”He spoke quietly. “But yes, you should have heard it from me.”

Rayvin’s blue eyes flashed and he shook his head. Tossing his long hair over his shoulder, he held up his hands and marched back out the door the way he came, a litany of curses on his lips.

Cullen exhaled a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding as his shoulders slumped in defeat. Of course, Trevelyan would find a way to meddle in his relationship with Hawke. Why couldn’t the Inquisitor just leave it alone? Just accept that Cullen wasn’t interested in being anything more than colleagues or even friends? He had thought despite Trevelyan’s flirting that they had made real progress, but now he knew it was all just a ruse.

He couldn’t worry about Trevelyan at the moment, though. He needed to find Rayvin. Knowing the man as he did, it didn’t take a genius to figure out he’d be in the tavern getting drunk.

***

After purchasing a bottle of Ferelden Whiskey from Cabot, Rayvin left the tavern behind and wandered the grounds of Skyhold for a while. What he’d learned from Trevelyan angered him as much as it hurt. Not that Cullen hadn’t told him, but that he hadn’t trusted him. Or maybe it just stemmed from the fact that Rayvin had lost so many people that he loved and he was scared he’d lose Cullen as well. He of all people knew how ugly addiction was.

The questions he had asked Solas made him think of things better off left to memories. It made Rayvin realize how much he missed being in the close company of a mage. An ache pierced his heart. It made him miss Anders and Bethany. And his father. Especially his father.

Malcolm Hawke had been a good man, a gifted mage. He had been a patient teacher, sometimes strict when he had to be, but that had been for Bethany’s own good. As a young apostate, she had to learn to control her magic just so. It had been imperative that her budding skill not bring the Templars to their door. Under their father’s tutelage, she had excelled, despite her reservations of not being normal.

He wished she would have lived, though. She had been the best of all of them. She was the light, their sunshine. Varric had hit the nail on the head with that nickname. It made him wonder where she would be right now if she had not died in the Deep Roads.

Finding a quiet spot near the stables, he sat down with his back against a tree and let the past and the whiskey consume him. Everything that he had lost came crashing back. The battles he had fought, the blood he had spilled, all the lives he had taken. He had tried, gave his all to protect the one thing he had left, but even that was taken from him. Those eyes still haunted him. Even at the bitter end there was no censure, no remorse and no regrets. He didn’t want to remember Anders like that, a broken tortured mess. Rayvin closed his eyes as the memories assailed him. It wasn’t by far his happiest memory of Anders, but it was one of the most meaningful he had. One that set him on the path that eventually led him to where he was now.

(Flashback)

The lit lanterns loomed above a pair of doors. He opened one, allowing Bethany and Varric to enter before he stepped inside what he had learned to be a clinic for the poor and destitute. They were refugees, all of them, and the healer took care of them without so much asking for anything in return. Yet if what they had learned at Lirene’s was true, there was more to this man than met the eye. Lirene had told them his name was Anders and that he had lost more than most people.

Rayvin sauntered into the room, stopping short at the sight of the healer in question leaning over a table. A young boy rested upon the table, having been injured when a cart rolled over in the Bone Pit. Orbs of healing energy glowed in the healer’s hand as he moved them above the child while his parents nervously fretted beside the table.

Tense minutes followed before the boy gasped for breath and opened his eyes. His mother let out a happy cry and scooped the lad up in her arms while the father patted the healer on the back.

Exhaustion overtook the healer, causing him to stagger back slightly. The lad’s father rushed to help him, but Rayvin watched as the healer waved him off, leaning against the pillar to the right side of the room.

While Rayvin knew this might not be the best time to approach the healer, due to what he had just witnessed, he also knew they needed to find a way into the Deep Roads. Without that, there was no way the expedition was going anywhere and right now, Rayvin desperately needed that expedition to work out.

Rayvin ventured a few more steps, stopping short again when the mage grabbed the staff that had been leaning against the pillar and whirled around to greet them.

With his hand extended in defense, his voice boomed, “I have made this place a sanctum of healing and salvation. Why do you threaten it?”

Rayvin cocked an eyebrow, an amused expression on his face. “Strange occupation for a Warden. Aren’t you more about taint and death, not healing and salvation?”

Anders shook his head, “Did the Wardens send you to bring me back?” He held up his hand, still in defense. “I’m not going. Those bastards made me get rid of my cat. Poor Ser Pounce-a-lot. He hated the Deep Roads.”

Rayvin’s amused expression blossomed into one of outright hilarity as a bark of laughter slipped from his lips, “I see the Wardens recruitment standards went way down since the Blight. I suppose it wasn’t easy to recover after damn near all the Ferelden Grey Wardens died at Ostagar.”

Mirth twinkled in his deep blue eyes.

“What would you know of Ostagar or of the Wardens?” Anders challenged as he eyed the dark haired man wearing heavy armor.

“Oh please, I was on the field at Ostagar. I bet I’ve probably killed more darkspawn than you have, Warden,” Rayvin boasted brashly. He knew, really, there was no way that was true, but he couldn’t help it. He liked the fire in the eyes of the man standing before him.

“If I might intercede in your little pissing match for a moment,” Varric spoke up. “Maybe you shouldn’t be insulting the man we’ve come to ask for help.”

Then Varric turned his attention to Anders fully. “We’re part of an expedition into the Deep Roads. Do you know a way in?”

Anders scoffed, “I will die a happy man if I never think about the blighted Deep Roads again. You can’t imagine what I’ve come through to get here. I’m not interested…”

Rayvin rolled his eyes, “Oh come on,” he placed his hands on his hips and adopted a fairly aggressive pose. “We aren’t asking you to go, though that might be helpful. All we need to know is if you know of a good entrance to get down there. For the Maker’s sake, you’re a healer. Any information you have can save people’s lives.”

Anders sighed, his work worn hand rubbing his brow. He could feel Justice’s objections. Don’t get involved. Focus on our mission. “A favor for a favor, then? How does that sound? You help me, and I’ll help you.”

“Sure, whatever. Help my expedition reach the Deep Roads and you can ask of me anything you’d like,” Rayvin wiggled his eyebrows as he plastered a lopsided grin on his face.

Anders crossed his arms in front of his chest and arched a brow. Was this man for real? Was he flirting? “You don’t ask for my terms? What if I were asking for the knight-commander’s head on a spike.”

Rayvin let out a loud laugh, “That’s not a favor. That would be a service to the whole city. I’d gladly do that. I hate the fucking Templar Order.”

“Then you and I just might get along better than I thought we would,” Anders smirked. “I have a Warden map of the depths in this area. But there’s a price.”

Rayvin cocked an eyebrow at him, hoping he’d continue. Whatever it was, it would be worth it to get those maps.

“I came to Kirkwall to aid a friend. A mage. A prisoner in the wretched Gallows. The Templars learned of my plans to free him. Help me bring him safely past them, and you shall have your maps.” Anders explained, hoping to convince the man standing in front of him to lend his aid. That he professed to hate the Templar Order was a good sign. Even Justice had quieted down for the moment.

“While I’m not opposed to seeing a mage go free, I’m all for it, I must ask how you plan on breaking him out of the Gallows? And by the way, aren’t you even remotely curious about who you’re asking for help from. Seems like you’d want to be cautious. I mean, you don’t even know me. So maybe we should slow down a bit.” Rayvin scratched his head before extending a hand in greeting, “I’m Hawke, by the way. The dwarf is my business partner in the expedition, Varric Tethras and,” as he nodded his head towards the black haired female, “that is my little sister, Bethany.”

Anders flicked his eyes over the two people who were with Rayvin. The beardless dwarf had a very impressive looking crossbow strapped to his back and if he wasn’t mistaken, Hawke’s sister was a mage. Yes, a mage. He could sense the lyrium in her blood. “I welcome your aid, Hawke. I’m also hoping it won’t come to that. I sent Karl a message to meet me in the Chantry tonight. Maker willing, he’ll be there, alone. But if there are Templars with him, I swear I’ll free him from them. Whatever the cost.”

Bethany came forward, resting a hand on Hawke’s armored bicep. “Rayvin, you’re not considering this, are you?” She wrung her hands, fretting. “I know we should help him, to free this mage, but it scares me. I don’t want to be hunted by the Templars any more than I have been.”

Rayvin gazed down upon her fondly, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and pulling her to his side. She nestled in, her head resting against his upper chest as she roped her arms around his waist. “Now, Bethie, I won’t let the Templars take you away… ever. I’ll protect you, just like I always have.”

Rayvin turned his attention back to Anders, who watched them curiously. “So we kill some pissed off armored helm-polishers and make your friend an apostate? Sounds like fun to me.”

“Apostate,” Anders scoffed. “That is such a weighted term. It goes against no will of the Maker for mages to live as free as other men.”

Rayvin let go of Bethany and held his hands up in front of him, “You’ll get no argument from me on that. My father was an apostate. My sister is an apostate. I’ve spent my entire life around magic. I see nothing wrong with mages enjoying the same freedom as I have, but I will say one thing. My father always stressed that having a proper education was the best thing for a young mage. If there was some other way to facilitate that without locking mages up in the Circles, I think that would be grand.”

Anders nodded his head, impressed by the man before him who obviously had no problem speaking his mind, “I think we will work together better than I expected. I have already sent word for Karl to meet me in the Chantry tonight. Join us there, and we’ll ensure that no matter who is with him, we all walk away free.”

“I’ll be there. You can count on it,” Rayvin smiled and gave Anders a slight wink before he turned and walked away, ushering Bethany all along with him and Varric trailing a few steps behind.

A noise drew him out of his musing and he turned towards where he thought it had come from, but nothing was there. It might have been the wind sweeping through the trees or some activity going on within the Skyhold’s yard, though Rayvin wasn’t sure. He felt a chill around him and could have sworn there was a presence here. Absurd , he told himself. Or maybe just wishful thinking.

Making his way to the battlements at the rear of the keep behind the stables, he paced back and forth, and drained the remainder of the bottle.

“I swore I’d protect you and I failed.” He stood on the precipice and threw the bottle. He teetered on the edge before staggering back. He leaned against one of the battlements, resting his head on the cold stone. "FUCKINGMAKERDAMNYOU! Why?”

A gasp sounded from behind him. Rayvin didn’t have to look to know who was there. He knew.

“Rayvin, I think you’ve had enough to drink.” Cullen said in a soft but firm voice. “We can work this out.”

Bleary-eyed, he glanced over to find Cullen staring down at him with a concerned expression on his face. “I shay when I’ve had enough and I shay I’m not drunk. Fucking leave me alone.”

Cullen knew dealing with an inebriated Hawke would be an exercise in futility, but he had to try. Something more than Cullen not telling Rayvin that he’d stopped taking lyrium was eating at him and he would find out what it was, no matter what.

“Rayvin, let’s not do this here. Come with me.”

Rayvin staggered toward him. “Arright.” Swaying as he moved, he closed the short distance between them and took an unsteady swing at Cullen. The Commander easily sidestepped the punch while Rayvin overbalanced and ended up face down on the battlement.

He lay there groaning. “Fucker. Trushed you.”

“That was uncalled for.”

Through the haze of booze, Rayvin forced himself get up, staggering forward. “Trushed you,” he repeated.

He stumbled and fell a second time. This time Cullen helped him up. He was not unsympathetic to Rayvin’s struggle, to his addiction. He didn’t like how much Rayvin drank and cared about what happened to him. He hoped he could help him, but right now, getting him someplace where he wouldn’t hurt himself or anyone else would be best.

***

The creaking of the door opening made Cullen lift his head to see who was coming into the tower room. When he had escorted Rayvin here earlier and tucked him into the bed, he gave orders to the soldiers patrolling the battlements they were not to be disturbed. Despite the fact Cullen had a pile a paperwork on his desk, he felt taking care of Hawke was more important. Rayvin needed to sleep off the alcohol and they needed to have a talk. Everything else could wait.

“Hawke?”

It was Varric.

“He’s asleep.” Cullen said softly as he glanced back over his shoulder. He shifted, untangling himself from Hawke, and sat up on the edge of the bed. “Did you need something?”

“You and Hawke, huh?” An amused expression lingered on the dwarf’s face. “I can’t say I saw that coming, but one thing is for certain. Hawke definitely has a type.”

“Maker’s breath!” The curse slipped tersely from Cullen’s lips. He rubbed his hand over his brow as his face turned crimson. He should have counted on this kind of reaction from Varric or something similar.

“What? Just saying. Hawke always did go for the blond, scruffy rebels. Blondie, and the Antivan elf… friend of Rivaini’s, I doubt you’d know him. And here I thought you spend far too much time being serious. Good to know that even you have a taste for something dangerous.”

“Just how do you figure that?”

“Because Hawke has always been dangerous, though for the most part, that’s what makes him Hawke. Right up there with his diva personality, his long hair and his self-destructive tendencies.” Varric flashed his lopsided grin.

Glancing back at the man sleeping soundly, his mouth curved into a smile and a husky chuckle slipped out. “You’re not wrong.”

“Hah!” Varric’s face lit up before he turned serious. “Just do me a favor, Curly. Help him. He’ll drink himself to death before he admits he has a problem and the only person that ever had any success in getting him to try to quit was Blondie.”

Cullen shook his head. “I’ll do whatever I can. I understand what he’s going through.”

“Tell him I was by and to come find me.”

Cullen nodded and watched as Varric took his leave of the tower room before making himself comfortable at Rayvin’s side once more. As Cullen spooned him, Rayvin shifted, rolling onto his stomach and groaned. He opened one eye, gazing up at the blond in bed with him.

“Was that Varric?”

“Yes. He wants you to find him later.”

Hawke made a ‘hmm’ noise and pressed against Cullen, nuzzling his face into the blond’s neck. “Later,” he repeated as he wrapped an arm around Cullen’s waist.

“I thought you were sleeping.”

“I am.” Rayvin murmured against Cullen’s skin. The statement caused Cullen to snort out a laugh. He rolled his eyes.

“What am I going to do with you?”

“Do you really want me to answer that?”

“No, that won’t—”

“Because I can think of many things that you can do to me. All of them quite delightful and everyone of them involving this bed.”

Cullen smirked. He should have known Rayvin’s answer would be something along those lines. “You are incorrigible.”

Rayvin’s eyes twinkled as he gazed up at Cullen fondly, “You love me.”

“I…” Cullen began then Rayvin brushed his finger over his lips.

“You don’t have to confirm or deny that. I’m teasing.” His brows drew together as he looked around the room. “How’d we end up here? And what time of day is it?”

Cullen sighed. “How much do you remember of what happened today?”

Hawke ran a hand through his hair and scratched his head. “We were working on plans for Adamant, then Trevelyan stuck his nose where it didn’t belong and I drank a bottle of whiskey.”

“Essentially yes, that is what happened. You were much angrier about it all. You sound so nonchalant now, especially that part where you heard that I have stopped taking lyrium from Trevelyan. I should have told you myself. It was a decision I made months ago, before you even joined us. I didn’t want to worry you. I know you have your own problems to deal with. It wasn’t that I didn’t tell you that made you so angry. It’s more than that, isn’t it?”

Rayvin drew in a deep breath. “Of course it is. I’ve seen Templars who were deep in the ravages of lyrium withdrawal. I’ve seen what it does to your bodies, your minds. It scared me. I’ve lost so many people I’ve loved. My family is gone. Anders is gone. All I have left is my cousin Charade, my cousin Rihanna, and a handful of close friends. I don’t want to lose you too.”

“That works both ways, Rayvin. I made the decision to break the hold that lyrium had over me, that I wouldn’t be bound to that life any longer. It’s been a struggle, but it’s been one that I can endure because I know once I am free, it’ll be worth it. It’s the same for you. I won’t stand by and watch you destroy yourself with alcohol. If we are going to continue this relationship, you have to sober up. I’m here for you and I will help you every step of the way. Promise me you’ll make the effort.”

“I’ll try.”

“That’s all I need to hear.” Cullen’s warm smile lit up his face.

Rayvin ran a hand down Cullen’s chest. “I warned Trevelyan. Told him to back off. You are mine. Inquisitor or no, he won’t like it if he persists,” he growled possessively.

“Do me a favor. Don’t go picking a fight.”

***

On a wrought iron bench on the fringes of the garden sat Alistair with a dark haired woman. They seemed to be chatting amicably. Could it be that they knew each other? He knew the Leliana had traveled with Alistair and Rihanna during the Blight, but this woman… For some reason, she seemed familiar and he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why.

Rayvin crouched beside Alistair, listening to their talk for a few moments. He eyed the woman curiously. Now that he was this close there definitely was something familiar about her. The outfit, the accent, the bright yellow eyes.

It hit from like a ton of bricks.

Flemeth.

“Pardon my interruption, but are you by chance Morrigan?” Rayvin watched her closely.

She raised a finely sculptured brow. “I am Morrigan. For what reason do you wish to know, Champion?”

“Is it true you grew up in the Korcari Wilds?” He inquired.

Morrigan shot him an intent look, “‘Tis true. I called the Wilds home for many years.”

“It’s surprising we’ve never encountered each other before now. Lothering was my home for many years. I used to love to explore the Wilds.” Rayvin reminisced fondly. “That’s not why I asked, however. Flemeth is your mother, is she not?”

Morrigan’s eyes flashed briefly at the mention of the name. “She is, Champion. Why do you ask?”

Rayvin grinned enigmatically, “She mentioned you a few times. It’s finally nice to put a face to the name.”

“Your answer ‘tis insufferably vague. Care to elaborate perhaps?” The full scrutiny of her yellow gaze was upon him, boring into him with intense scrutiny.

“My family barely escaped the destruction of Lothering. I watched my younger brother die in the grasp of an Ogre and when it seemed we would be overwhelmed by darkspawn, a dragon appeared.” He chuckled at the memory. Not because it was funny, because it was ironic. “It fried the small horde and then transformed into an old woman. Flemeth. She made it possible for us to make it to Gwaren, where we caught a ship headed for Kirkwall.”

Morrigan listened to him intently, carefully reading between the lines. “Mother saved you, did she? And what pray tell did her aid cost you?”

Rayvin shrugged, “She asked me to deliver an amulet to the keeper of a Dalish clan camped on Sundermount. Once I did, Marethari claimed my debt was paid in full. Haven’t seen her since.”

“You should be wary, Champion, for Mother never does anything without extracting a price.” Morrigan cautioned. “You mentioned an amulet? Do you know what was done with it?”

“Merrill performed a Dalish rite for the departed at a shrine to Mythal. I can still hear her words plain as day. Then Flemeth appeared, spoke a few cryptic words about change and knowing when to leap. Then she turned herself back into a dragon and flew off.”

Morrigan pushed herself to her feet, glancing around the garden. “If you’ll both excuse me, I must find my son.”

Rayvin raised a perplexed eyebrow at Alistair, “Was it something I said?”

Alistair shrugged, “Morrigan always was rude. Some things never change.”

A soft chuckle slipped from Rayvin’s lips. He bade Alistair a pleasant evening before he made his way back into the main hall of the keep where he found Varric. He settled into a chair by the dwarf’s fire and picked up the deck of cards.

“Wicked Grace?”

“Now you’re talking, Hawke.” The dwarf dealt the cards, grinning at him the whole time. “If you lose, you have to give me all the details about you and Curly.”

“Keep dreamin’, dwarf. Oh, that’s right. Dwarves don’t dream.”

***

“There you are. I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” Cullen spoke up, his hand rested on the hilt of his sword. He flashed a smile at him, his eyes gleaming with affection.

“Varric and I have been playing Wicked Grace,” Rayvin flicked his eyes up from the spread of cards in his hands. He ran his fingers through his hair, bringing them to rest at the back of his neck. He wasn’t happy with the hand he had been dealt and was sure Varric had stacked the deck again. “Wanna join in?”

Cullen chuckled. “I’ll pass.”

“Need me for something?” Rayvin threw out a discard and drew one in its place. It wasn’t of a suit he needed. This hand was a bust, that much he knew for sure.

“I just came from the meeting in the war room, concerning Adamant. As one of my agents, you will be reporting to me exclusively. For the upcoming siege, I have assigned you a battalion of soldiers. You and those men will be responsible for scaling the ladders and removing any Warden resistance on the battlements. I thought you’d enjoy being in the thick of things.” Cullen reported. A part of him worried for Rayvin’s safety, but he knew the Champion had faced down far worse in his lifetime.

Rayvin chuckled, “You know me well.”

“I’d like to know more, but sadly the siege has been moved up. We march toward the Western Approach come morning. I would be pleased if you rode at my side on the journey there.” Cullen ventured a hopeful look.

Pushing himself to his feet, Rayvin sidled up to Cullen, leaning close. “It would be my pleasure, Cullen.”

Cullen moved even closer. His blond head bent and his mouth brushed Rayvin’s in a soft kiss. Rayvin moaned as his lips parted. The tip of Cullen’s tongue touched his. Fire raced through his bloodstream, heating his skin, quickening his breath. Making him think of Cullen’s earlier admission.

As quick as he started it, Cullen broke off the kiss, staring at Rayvin with passion darkened eyes. His chest heaved, which made him feel a little bit better about being totally breathless.

As much as he wanted more, he knew he shouldn’t tempt Cullen any further. He swore though once the pains of Adamant were over and done with, he would claim what he wanted. He would have Cullen bent over a desk or flat on his back while he pounded his ass into the mattress.

And nothing would get in his way.


***

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight: You Want A Battle, Here’s A War

 

With the Siege of Adamant moved up, Skyhold became a hive of activity. Spirits were running high, as many of the Inquisition’s soldiers were eager to test their mettle in battle against the legendary Grey Wardens. Though night had fallen, many of the men who would see battle were restless. Rayvin was one of them. He left Cullen to finish preparations for the battle and made his way to the Skyhold courtyard, where the sparring ring had drawn a crowd.

Rayvin stopped and watched the two combatants. Seeker Cassandra and Warden Blackwall faced off against each other, sparring with sword and shield in hand. Among the crowd he could pick out familiar faces, Alistair being one of them. He made his way over to him. They made small talk as they watched the bout. Hoots and hollers accompanied the sound of metal striking wood. Both combatants were in tiptop shape and neither was willing to give an inch. Yet it all ended when Cassandra disarmed Blackwall of his sword and knocked him to the ground with a vicious shield bash. He raised his hands, signaling defeat when she placed the tip of her blade at his throat. She helped him up, applauding his valiant effort.

Rayvin left Alistair’s side and confidently strode into the ring as Blackwall exited it. He grinned at her, wiggling his eyebrows, “Fancy a bout, Lady Seeker? Want a piece of the Champion?”

Cassandra cocked a fine brow, “You’re not going to use that huge sword, are you?”

Rayvin grinned as he rested it against the fence and accepted the practice sword and shield from Blackwall. “If you mean the one in my pants,” he winked at her, “then maybe later, sweetheart.”

“Ugh!” She rolled her eyes and readied herself for the bout. She hadn’t planned on another, but if it would shut the Champion up once and for all she was definitely looking forward to it.

Rayvin flipped his hair over his shoulder and twirled the sword around in his hand. He then gave it a few swings, testing its weight. He felt more comfortable using a greatsword, but was just as proficient with swords and shields. Aveline saw to that. He had even learned to dual wield daggers from Isabela and Zevran, though he’d never be able to do so with the finesse and grace that the two rogues had inherently. He was too much of a brute.

“Come at me, beautiful. Give it your best shot.” Rayvin bounced the balls of his feet, taunting her with a lopsided grin.

They circled with eyes fixed, sizing each other up. Cassandra knew very well that aside from his taunts, Rayvin was extremely good with that sword, so she was cautious enough to avoid his first thrust, still circling and narrowing her eyes while he kept that infuriating grin of his on his face.

“Would you rather we dance?” He laughed as he swung his sword at her. It bounced off her shield. “You call this a fight? Maybe you should wake me when you’re ready to go for real?”

Cassandra shook her head, a faint smile appearing on her face for the first time. She looked really attractive and the smile threw Rayvin off guard so to speak. His eyes widened slightly as she thrust her sword, and he dodged out of reach at the last moment, cursing to himself at his distraction. His eyes now narrowed slightly as he circled her twice, readying himself for the next thrust.

“I see the lady can play the game too, huh?” He chuckled. “Gotta hand it to ya. You’re tough, but you’re no Aveline.”

Cassandra’s smile was now openly taunting him as she moved in for the kill at the last moment, making Rayvin think she was going to circle him again at first. She employed a shield bash that made him go back several steps and thrust her sword at him twice, pulling out at the last moment when his sword thrust forward and met air, his target long gone. Cassandra had avoided his attack swimmingly. Rayvin grunted and focused a little more, wishing he had a drink. Cassandra’s smile widened again, when she rushed in from behind, her shield bash now slamming into his arse with precision and eliciting a chuckle from her lips.

Rayvin turned with a speed she did not thought he had, and bashed his shield right into her side, making her stumble backwards. He chuckled at that.

“You call yourself a warrior? My sister could hit harder than that!” Rayvin taunted, laughing out loud. He flourished his sword dramatically toward her while circling her, while Cassandra grimaced at his taunt, looking at him with deep annoyance. It looked like she had been hurt when he compared her to his sister and Rayvin chuckled again as she became sloppy, letting fury guide her thrusts and not the cool detachment she had shown before.

He quickly bashed her again, this time devoting all his time and focus into a frontal attack, and Cassandra managed to barely keep her feet on the ground. In but a few moments, he surprised her again, this time bashing her arse and laughing out loud. The Seeker turned an angry scowl in his direction and Rayvin blew her a kiss.

Enraged, Cassandra let out a growl as she rushed in, all her caution thrown to the wind. She thrust again and again, so close to him he could hear her breathing coming in short grunts and gasps as she forced herself to maim him. Again and again, he parried, his shield avoiding each of her thrusts until she was but a few inches from his face, her eyes shooting daggers at him.

“Well?” she breathed out angrily. “You have me, I can no longer feel my right arm. Move in for the kill if it pleases you. I shall not respond.” She dropped her shield to the ground and her sword as well, still standing incredibly close to him, her heavy breathing falling on his face.

Rayvin tossed the sword and shield aside, taking her to the ground. He straddled her hips, his open palms braced against the dirt on either side of her head. His long hair fell forward like a curtain draping them. “You do know if I weren’t otherwise involved what I’d do to you,” he whispered into her ear. “I’d find out if you fuck as hard as you fight… right here.”

Cassandra’s eyes widened slightly. She then gave him a charming smile as she brought her knee up and got him, right in his groin. Right in the… Maker’s balls. He was in so much pain he dropped to the side, clutching his groin and moaning.

The Seeker stood up, laughing. “It was a good fight! Call me if you need to do that again!” She continued to laugh as she left the sparring circle.  

Infernal woman!

***

Rayvin gritted his teeth and forced himself up off the ground, cursing himself for taunting her. That woman was as sore of a loser as Aveline was, though the Guard-Captain had never stooped to kneeing him the balls. Their bout had been intense, however. If it hadn’t been for his growing relationship with Cullen, he’d have kissed her when he pinned her. Then he’d have carried her off someplace private for a different kind of sparring match.

He left the ring behind and rested against the railing as two other combatants squared off inside it. A healer approached him, offering to ease his pain. She handed him a couple potions, one for healing and the other for stamina. He accepted both, knocking them back in quick succession. He thanked her as the pain in his groin subsided.

During the midst of the current sparring match between two soldiers, Trevelyan approached the ring, nodding to Cassandra. He stopped briefly in one of the openings in the wooden ring before striding to the middle of it. “Excuse me, gentlemen. Would you be so kind as to clear the ring?”

While one of the combatants flashed a cross look at him, the other inclined his head, “Yes, your Worship. It’s all yours.”

“Brown nose much, eh Soren? Does that mean I win?” The other muttered just loud enough for his partner to hear.

The one named Soren glared at him, “No, it just means we continue this later. After Adamant. I bet I can kill more demons than you can.”

The two faded into the crowd together, still trading insults as Trevelyan glanced at those assembled. A wicked grin settled on his face when he caught sight of Hawke. He had heard from Leliana that the Champion had been sparring with Cassandra. While he had hoped to catch some of the bout, it ended before he made it to the courtyard.

Yet, it seemed the crowd would enjoy another show. And he had something in mind. Trevelyan removed his black and tan tunic, stripping down to a pair of very tight fitted black trousers. He grinned, holding up his arm and pointed at Rayvin then crooked his finger, beckoning him forward.

Hawke smirked at Trevelyan as he strode forth. He circled him, casually looking him up and down. “You’re a bloody fool to challenge me, Your Worship. You’re nowhere close to being in my league.”

“I do challenge you, Hawke. How about you put up or shut up?” Trevelyan sneered as he raised his fists and adopted a defensive stance.

Rayvin pulled his tunic up over his head and tossed it over the rail, exposing his tattooed chest, back and arms. “Oh, I intend to. I’ll teach you the meaning of pain, boy.” He flexed his fingers before cracking his knuckles then lunged, his elbow connecting with his chest. He brought his knee up, burying it into his midsection.

Trevelyan grunted loudly as he grabbed Hawke’s hair, yanking at the long strands. “That the best you got.” He jerked Hawke about by his hair before letting him go.

Rayvin staggered, wincing at the feel of a few strands of his hair being yanked out by the roots. He rolled his shoulders and lunged again. They locked hands, testing each other’s strength. He was reasonably strong, but nowhere near as strong as Hawke. Rayvin forced him down on one knee then quickly put him in a headlock, his thick arms wrapped around his head. Loosening his grip, he balled his hand into a fist, smashing it into Trevelyan’s face. His nose exploded in a shower of blood. He cried out in pain and struggled to get free.

Rayvin let go, smirking insolently. “Ooh, did I give you an ouchie? Would you like to sit down for a moment?”

A growl escaped from Trevelyan’s lips and he swung a right arm which smacked Hawke right in the jaw. He stepped back chuckling, his hand rubbing his jaw. Rolling his shoulders, he circled the Inquisitor, a mad, predatory look on his face. Suddenly, without prior warning he rushed in from behind, before he could turn to get a good look at him. Trevelyan let out a grunt as Hawke nearly sent him toppling to the ground, but stood firm, until his elbow came up and hit his face twice. Trevelyan let out a howl, smashing the already broken nose and more blood spurted out. The crowd that was rapidly gathering gasped and a shout was heard. Rayvin scarcely heard it, so intent was he in kicking the fucker’s arse.   

Trevelyan tried to get out of his grasp, but failed spectacularly. Hawke taunted him, “Should I close my eyes, boy?” he spat out. “Would that even things up a little?”       

Hawke jerked him around, pulling him into a headlock once once. He took a couple of long strides toward the fence, allowing his feet to walk up one of the posts. Then he kicked off, bulldogging him to the ground with him. As Trevelyan’s face hit the dirt, he grunted aloud.

“You think you’re a badass until you meet a real badass,” Rayvin taunted as Trevelyan got up slowly, limping towards the fence. It seemed he had hit his knee hard. Hawke hoped it was broken. The Herald turned to face him, keeping a wary eye on him, circling the sparring ring far from Hawke now, cautiously planning his next move. “You cryin’ yet, boy? Fuckin’ told you that you weren’t in my league.”

But Hawke was done planning, rushing forward in a surprise movement, he quickly rammed into Trevelyan’s midsection, with all the strength he could muster. The Herald flew through the air and landed on his arse, well away from the sparring ring.

A soldier had been knocking repeatedly on the Commander’s door in the meantime. The Commander had opened his door, his eyes blinking back with alarm when the soldier quickly rattled off that the Inquisitor and the Champion were killing each other in the sparring ring. Muttering a quick “Maker’s breath,” Cullen rushed out of his office, taking the stairs two at a time, as he glanced in alarm at the gathering crowd and the gasps coming from it.

As soon as he got to the ring, he saw Trevelyan perform a combat roll maneuver along the fence, his mark glowing dangerously. Cullen rushed forth, his heart pounding furiously. Trevelyan popped up to his feet and grabbed the Warblade Hawke had left propped against the fence. He gripped his hands around the pommel and swung it at Rayvin.

Cullen’s shout of warning echoed through the courtyard as Rayvin ducked under the swing and somersaulted behind Trevelyan. As he popped back up, he lashed out, delivering a pulverizing kick to the Inquisitor’s knee. Trevelyan screamed from the pain and stumbled. The sword fell from his grip, clattering to the packed ground of the sparring circle. But Rayvin wasn’t done. Not by a long shot. Rage burned in his deep blue eyes.

With all the strength he possessed, he lifted Trevelyan off the ground, chokeslamming him to the packed earth at their feet. The ground shook with the impact.

“Don’t you ever fucking touch what’s mine!” Rayvin snarled. Trevelyan whimpered aloud, but had no time to react or defend himself as Hawke straddled his chest. Grabbing the Warblade, he slammed it into the ground right beside Trevelyan’s ear.

“Hawke!” Cullen shouted, pulling him off. “STOP!”

Rayvin glared at Cullen through the haze of rage he felt. He backed off, throwing a furious look at the Commander, he snarled, “I’ll fucking kill him next time.”

He exited the sparring ring, turning back to the crowd. “Drinks are on me!”

Cullen shook his head as he glanced at Rayvin’s retreating back, the worry in his eyes evident. In the meantime, Trevelyan’s mark had stopped glowing and he curled into a ball. Cassandra knelt beside him. She barked orders, sending bystanders to fetch the healers.

“How did this happen?” Cullen asked as he knelt beside her.

“Hawke and I had a sparring match. He won. When it was over, Trevelyan challenged him. Hawke tried to discourage him, but I am afraid he taunted him more than he should have. We all know the Inquisitor is a fine warrior in his own right, but he is no match for Hawke.”

“I had hoped Trevelyan would stop antagonizing him. Maker, it’s only going to get worse, isn’t it?”

Cassandra shared Cullen’s concerned expression. Neither of them approved of Trevelyan’s jealousy of Hawke, but there wasn’t much that they could do about it. Something told them it wasn’t going to end well either.

“I shall see that Trevelyan is taken care of. You should look after Hawke.” Cassandra gave Cullen a smile, as if she knew there was something going on.

With a nod, Cullen turned to the tavern and walked towards it. He was going to have to have a little talk with Hawke, the sooner, the better.

***

Rayvin handed Cabot a pouch of coins, “First round is on me.” He accepted a drink from the dwarven bartender.

Cullen walked in and slammed the door. The eyes of some of his soldiers were on him and they left their drinks untouched as they sprang to their feet and saluted. The Commander narrowed his eyes, it was already dark, and he knew they were off duty. “At ease,” he barked, noticing Hawke at the bar, draining his mug. Stepping up to where Rayvin was he grabbed the next drink and knocked it back, facing Hawke who grinned at him. 

“I love it when you’re all growly.” Rayvin winked as he adjusted the tightness of his leathers. His erection was more than evident to Cullen who chanced a look down, then flicked his eyes right up to Rayvin’s, a slight blush on his face.

“We need to talk, now,” Cullen snarled at him, his eyes two smouldering golden orbs. “In my office.”

Rayvin pushed away from the bar, heading for the stairs at the back. His long legs quickly ate up the distance and soon he found himself on the battlements. Cullen joined him, leading Rayvin to his office, where he barred the doors against any interruptions.

“Listen to me,” Cullen spoke angrily. “You don’t seem to understand how much I care about you. But I do, Maker help me. I won’t let you throw your life away! When I saw him swing that sword at you or he could have used the mark on you -”

Rayvin grabbed hold of Cullen, slamming their lips together in a fierce kiss. He plundered Cullen’s mouth with his tongue, his hands groping at Cullen’s coat, pulling it off.

Cullen made an attempt to stop Hawke, briefly breaking the kiss and looking into his eyes. “I - Maker’s Breath!” Cullen exclaimed, “I happen to be serious I’ll have you know!”

“So am I, Cullen. You want this. Furthermore, I’m not worried about Trevelyan so relax. Enjoy me,” Rayvin all but purred. He unbuckled Cullen’s armor, swiftly removing the breastplate and dropping it to the floor. Then he pulled Cullen’s undershirt up over his head, tossing it down. Cullen let out a long moan and captured his lips , and it took Rayvin by surprise. He could feel Cullen’s erection as he pressed against him.

“Maker, Rayvin,” Cullen managed to say, “you’re so hard.”

Rayvin ground his hips into Cullen’s. “All because of you, love. I’ve wanted you for years, ever since we first met. I just never thought it would happen.”

“Maker, neither did I,” Cullen murmured, pausing for a moment to let his hands run up Rayvin’s chest and leaning forward to begin to kiss down his neck. “I’ve never done this before. With another man, I mean…”

“Relax, Cullen. There’s not a whole lot of difference as far as the sex goes… just where things go,” Rayvin chuckled, his eyes twinkling mirthfully.

Cullen gave a bark of a laugh, his eyes like molten gold as he looked deeply into Rayvin’s.

“Then I suggest we go upstairs. I wouldn’t want to take you on the desk. It’s not what I want for you…”

“Oh?” Rayvin replied. “And what is it that you want for me, love?”

“I want to show you how much I care about you. Follow me?”

Despite the fact Cullen had asked Rayvin to follow him, it was Rayvin who took charge.He grasped hold of Cullen’s hand, leading him up to the bed that dominated the loft. A deep, hungry need coursed through him. He wasn’t the only one affected by that need, either. Rayvin could see it in Cullen’s eyes. The back of Rayvin’s legs brushed the base of the bed. He shimmied out of black leather pants, breathing a sigh of relief that his cock was no longer trapped in the constricting fabric. He cursed under his breath, thankful for the potions after Cassandra had kneed him. Otherwise this might not be happening.

Then he crooked his finger at Cullen to follow. The blond grinned and joined him. He was ready for this, ridding his own leather trousers in a hurry, his own erection straining against his smalls, then walked to the bed, putting an arm around Rayvin, leaning in and capturing Rayvin’s lips for a passionate kiss that made him moan eagerly.

Glancing over at the bedside table, he flashed his signature lopsided smirk, “I see you kept the things I left here last time.”

He reached for the small vial of oil and rested it beside him. “This here will be your best friend. Men aren’t like women. Nothing gets wet so to speak.” He wiggled his eyebrows, holding in a chuckle as Cullen blushed. “You are so fucking adorable, do you know that?”

“I… Maker’s Breath! Would you mind it if I said I’m nervous, because I am.”

Rayvin’s eyes twinkled as he chuckled softly. “I know that, but that is something you need to know. I don’t mind being the bottom, but I’ve never allowed anyone to plow my ass without some kind of lube. Sorry if that sounds crude, but it’s the honest truth.”

"Maker’s breath! How do I turn this into a romantic night now?” Cullen protested with a smile. “You’re incorrigible.”

 “And you wouldn’t have me any other way. Get over here and kiss me,” Rayvin said as he reached for Cullen.

The pair nestled together, kissing and running their hands all over each other. Then Rayvin pressed Cullen down flat onto his back and straddled his hips with an impetuous grin on his face.

Cullen was already hard and ready, and Rayvin felt his lover’s cock jump aggressively between them. Rayvin indulged in a slow slide against Cullen’s cock, and Cullen shuddered, thrusting hard up toward him. Rayvin took a deep breath and rested his head against Cullen’s chest. This was going to be over before it began, if he wasn’t careful.

He began his assault on Cullen’s nipple, sucking and nipping, blowing and rubbing, until Cullen was writhing and begging him to stop, to never stop. Then he moved to the other side, treating the right nipple to the same torture. With one hand he tweaked and teased the abandoned peak, mercilessly.

“Rayvin, please.”

Rayvin’s cock throbbed at the sound of need in Cullen’s voice, but he steeled his heart against the plea. He looked up to meet Cullen’s fevered gaze. “Tell me what you want.”

At Cullen’s growl of frustration, Rayvin ducked his head to hide a smile. He licked a trail from Cullen’s breastbone to the hollow of his neck. Cullen shivered and thrust against Rayvin’s stomach. Rayvin lifted his weight and waited.

Cullen knew Rayvin was now teasing him. “I−I want to be with you.”

“Is that all?” Rayvin reversed his path down the hard expanse of Cullen’s chest, his muscled abdomen, bending to lick teasing circles around Cullen’s navel before he stopped.

Rayvin took the tip of Cullen’s cock into his mouth, and Cullen whimpered when Rayvin pulled back.

Rayvin’s mouth hovered, and he met Cullen’s eyes over the length of his body.

“Tell me.” He nuzzled Cullen’s cock with his nose and licked the underside from base to tip. Cullen was shaking when Rayvin pulled back. He met Cullen’s gaze again. “Tell me.”

Cullen swallowed, but he held Rayvin’s gaze. “I want −” The last was cut off as Rayvin slid up his body lightning-fast and captured Cullen’s mouth in a long, hard kiss.

His smile became wicked, “Now onto the fun bits.”

A grin that matched his own curved upon Cullen’s lips. It seemed he approved.

His lover arched his neck to give him better access. Rayvin hummed his approval and then continued to lick a path all the way up over Cullen’s adam’s apple to the rough stubble that began under his chin.

Rayvin rubbed his nose over the surface in a brief caress and then gave the skin an open-mouthed, wet kiss.

Cullen moaned his name.

Rayvin wanted to take his time acquainting himself with Cullen’s body, but considering that Cullen felt so damn good under him, he knew he wasn’t going to last very long. Cullen was doing his best to hurry him along, using his lower body to arch his hips and thrust against Rayvin. Their bodies were already bathed in a fine sheen of sweat, and their cocks slid against each other in a delicious glide of skin on skin. The sensation was driving Rayvin to the edge, and it was all he could do to maintain his tenuous grip on control.

Motherfucker,” Rayvin hissed.

Cullen laughed, and Rayvin nipped his shoulder. Determined to regain the upper hand, Rayvin pushed up on his elbows. His body screamed in protest at the separation, his arms shaking with barely contained need.

Rayvin reached an unsteady hand down between their bodies and wrapped it around their cocks. He gasped as his body arched at the contact. It was almost too much − his cock rubbing against Cullen’s, his hand binding them together. He groaned and began to move his hand, sliding his grip up and down their shafts. Rayvin looked down the length of their bodies, in the narrow space that separated them, and watched their cocks slide together in his hand.

Cullen was breathing heavily, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he thrust into Rayvin’s fist. The sight sent a ripple of pleasure through Rayvin’s body, and he lowered his head to Cullen’s shoulder with a low moan.

“Fuck! Need you.” Rayvin sounded desperate, and Cullen’s body shuddered at the sound. “Need you so bad.”

Rayvin nuzzled against Cullen’s shoulder and raised his head to look down at his lover.

Cullen’s eyes were hooded. He had caught his bottom lip between his teeth as he continued to thrust into Rayvin’s hand. The planes of his face had a leonine set in the pale light provided by the hole in the ceiling. He looked fierce, dangerous. And he belonged to Rayvin.

Rayvin couldn’t contain his growl as he dove for Cullen’s mouth.

Cullen made a startled sound that turned into a long moan. The kiss went on and on. Rayvin began to thrust his tongue into Cullen’s mouth in time with the jerks of his hand and the tandem thrusts of their hips. The pleasure was so intense, it bordered on pain. He broke away from Cullen’s mouth and arched his neck, eyes closed as he began to bring them toward release.

“No, Rayvin!”

He almost didn’t hear Cullen through the sound of blood pulsing in his ears.

“Rayvin!”

He froze, dazed.

Cullen was holding himself rigidly still. With effort, Rayvin opened his eyes and looked down, sweat now dripping from his face onto Cullen’s body.

Cullen swallowed hard, his breath coming out in small gasps. “I-I want to be inside you.” He paused, pinning Rayvin with his gaze. “I need you, too.”

With those words, Rayvin thought he might lose control right then. He stared at the need in Cullen’s face. It was a sight so beautiful, he couldn’t speak. He managed a jerky nod before he dove in for one more hard kiss, and then he was sliding down Cullen’s body. He groaned when he was finally nose to cock. He licked the length of Cullen’s shaft from root to tip and couldn’t help taking him deep once. Cullen was already oozing, and Rayvin moaned at the salty taste of cum in his mouth.

Cullen’s body shook, and he growled a low warning, “Rayvin.”

Rayvin pulled free with a last lingering lick, and then he scooted farther back, moving Cullen’s legs over his shoulders. He licked a path from his lover’s ass to his balls and groaned as this deeper, musky flavor mixed with the taste of Cullen’s pre-cum already in his mouth. The need to feel Cullen inside him was nearly overwhelming, but there was so much he wanted to do first. To prolong this moment.

Rayvin zeroed in on Cullen’s puckered hole and licked the surface again and again, pressing his tongue down into the tight opening on each pass. Cullen was thrashing now, moaning with every stroke. Rayvin tightened his hold on Cullen’s thighs to keep him in place and began thrusting his tongue in and out of his rosebud.

Cullen growled out in warning, “Rayvin, now.”

Rayvin knew he’d teased Cullen more than enough. Besides, he wanted this. He needed this, too. Quickly he pulled away, changing places with Cullen, getting comfortable on the bed. Cullen pushed himself up to his knees and, hooking his arms under Rayvin’s thighs, lifted his lover. When he had their bodies aligned, Cullen set him back down. Rayvin’s legs were splayed, leaving him completely open. Cullen looked up the length of Rayvin’s body and held his gaze as he reached for the vial of oil resting on the bedside stand and poured some into his hand. He reached down and slowly stroked himself once. The sound of his hand sliding wetly over his oil-slicked cock sent a jolt through him.

“Are you ready for me, Rayvin?”

Rayvin answered with a moan. Cullen planted a hand on the mattress next to Rayvin’s head and used his other hand to guide his cock to Rayvin’s opening. He pushed in slowly. It seemed to go forever, the tight, dark slide into Rayvin’s welcoming heat.

“Maker, Rayvin. You’re so tight.”

When he was all the way in, he stilled, breathing hard, but Rayvin wasn’t in the mood to wait. He tightened around Cullen in deliberate provocation.

“Give it to me,” Rayvin taunted, his blue eyes twinkling with need.

Cullen let go. Rearing up, he grabbed Rayvin’s hips with rough hands and began thrusting in and out of his lover’s body. He felt driven, possessed. With every thrust, he tried to lodge himself deeper inside Rayvin. He twisted his hips, looking for the spot that would drive his lover to the edge. He knew the minute he hit it; Rayvin’s eyes appeared to roll back in his head, and his whole body spasmed. Rayvin growled, arching his hips, and made sure Cullen’s cock hit the same spot again and again.

Cullen’s head was thrown back, the cords of his neck standing out aggressively under his glistening skin. He groaned with every stroke, his mouth forming words Rayvin couldn’t articulate. But he understood the sentiment. It had never been this good.

Sweat dripped down Cullen’s back as he pounded into Rayvin with long, hard strokes. The sound of their sweaty flesh slapping together was a delicious counterpoint to the squeaking of the bed frame.

Cullen felt the tightness start from deep within and knew he wouldn’t be able to hold back this time. He moved a hand to grip Rayvin’s cock and began to stroke him forcefully.

Rayvin’s eyes flashed open to meet his, connecting them completely. “Love you.”

At the sound of Rayvin’s hoarse whisper, Cullen’s body shuddered, and then the world exploded, destroying him, making him whole. Rayvin’s howl of release rang in his ears as Cullen came and came and came in his lover’s body.

Cullen didn’t even remember collapsing onto Rayvin, but when he finally opened his eyes, his head rested on warm, sweat-slickened skin.

“Love?” Rayvin’s chest rumbled under Cullen’s ear.

“Hmm?” Cullen smiled, drifting happily on afterglow.

“I can't promise I'll always behave,” Rayvin whispered huskily. “But for as long as you'll have me, I'll do my best to always to true to us.”

Cullen slipped to Rayvin’s side and threaded the fingers on each other’s hands together, squeezing tight. “Spend the night here?” Cullen’s voice was soft and Rayvin smiled.

“For you, Love, anything.”

***

Daybreak had the Commander and the Champion on horseback at the front of the Inquisition’s army making the long trek out of the Frostbacks towards the Western Approach.

During the time they spent marching towards the keep the Inquisition had captured, they camped out in the desert with the men. The night skies were always full of stars, but even though both Cullen and Rayvin shot looks at each other over the campfires, they did not sleep in the same tent, nor did they spend time alone. They knew the gravity of the situation and how focused they had to be as they marched on.

The men were counting on them for guidance and to Rayvin it would not do for Cullen and himself to flaunt the relationship. It just seemed to him that they were in a situation that called for focus, the severity of the coming battle not lost on them both.  And Rayvin knew very well how to be serious, when the situation required it.

It took two weeks to reach Griffon Wing Keep. When the gates of the great keep were in view, it was a welcome sight to the men. It had been a long two weeks on sunrise to sunset marching. As soon as they had settled in, Cullen told the men that they had the night off, allowing everyone to relax before they marched to battle. Cullen, on the other hand, had planned to meet with Knight-Captain Rylen before spending some time with Rayvin. Cullen knew it would be the last time he’d see him before the siege. Fortunately the meeting with Rylen didn’t take long as they would have a longer war council right before the siege began. Cullen headed for his quarters, finding Rayvin within, cleaning and oiling his heavy Champion armor.

The smile Hawke bestowed upon him as he stepped into the room warmed him to the core. Rayvin set aside the breastplate he was working on and met Cullen halfway. The kiss that followed was deep and urgent. Needy. Rayvin pulled Cullen close, hands groping at his back and buttocks greedily. He couldn’t get enough of him. He wanted more, but knew this wasn’t the time or place.

Rayvin broke the kiss, dragging his lips across Cullen’s cheek to his neck. He pushed aside the black and red lion fur mantle, nibbling and sucking his way below his ear down the side, while Cullen hummed his approval, his hands pulling Rayvin closer. Cullen hissed at the feel of a sharp nip before Rayvin recaptured his lips. This kiss was softer, more tender, but no less in its intensity. He poured everything he was feeling into that kiss, hoping Cullen would know because words had utterly failed him.

He pulled away, nuzzling his face in the crook of Cullen’s neck as his hands ran up and down the length of his back.

“I - I usually pray most of the night before a battle. Don’t know if you - that is, um…” Cullen trailed off, looking into Rayvin’s eyes, worried of his reaction.

Rayvin smiled sincerely, his eyes alight with happiness, very sober for once. “Most of the ones I’ve fought have been in reaction to something else, but I’ve found it helps to center myself.” He rested his forehead against Cullen’s and began to recite the verse that had had the greatest impact on his life.

“Blessed are they who stand before the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter. Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just.”

Cullen joined in with him immediately, his voice murmuring, his eyes closed.

“Blessed are the righteous, the lights in the shadow. In their blood the Maker’s will is written.”

They both fell to their knees after this, Cullen still holding Hawke close as he prayed. Rayvin prayed right along with him, knowing the Chant by memory already, since his family regularly prayed it while he was growing up. His heart soared with peace and happiness, his resolve strong.

He would come out of this victorious. And once he did, he would commit himself to fight against Corypheus, right by Cullen’s side.

Where he wanted to be...for as long as he drew breath.

***

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine: Outtakes

***

Scene 1: A Late Night Confession

Cullen woke to an empty bed. He pushed himself into an upright position, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and stared out into the night. A full moon brightly illuminated the loft. He glanced around the room searching for Rayvin, but he was nowhere in sight. Pushing the blankets aside, he sat up on the edge of the bed and reached for a pair of trousers. As he slipped into them, he could have sworn he heard noises coming from below in his office.

“Rayvin,” he called out and made his way down the ladder.

Rayvin wasn’t in the office, either. Upon further investigation, Cullen noted the door by the bookcase was cracked open slightly. He went through it and found Rayvin leaning over the battlement, staring out at Skyhold’s drawbridge.

“There you are.”

Rayvin lifted his lips in a half smile and glanced over his shoulder at Cullen. “This view reminds me of my estate in Kirkwall. I had a balcony that overlooked the whole city. I loved it at first. But after a while, all I could see were the people out there depending on me.”

Cullen placed his hand on Rayvin’s shoulder, his fingers stroking gently. “You carried a heavy burden as the Champion.”

Rayvin took Cullen by the hand, leading him back to the bed in Cullen’s loft. From the pocket of his trousers, he pulled what looked to be some sort of necklace. He sighed heavily, clutching the item in his hand. “You don’t know the half of it. Not really. People think they know the shit I’ve been through, but they don’t have a clue.”

He held out his hand, revealing what he held. “This locket belonged to my mother.”

Cullen picked up the beautiful silver locket from Rayvin’s hand and opened it. Inside were two miniature portraits, a younger woman and an older one. “Who are these ladies?”

“That’s my mother when she was eighteen and the older woman is her mother, Lady Bethann Amell.” Rayvin squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and drew in a shaky breath. “Are you aware that the story of my mother’s death, the one Varric wrote in the Tale of the Champion , the same one he told to Cassandra was a lie? Varric would have rather died than tell the whole truth of what we found that fateful night and what my true reaction was.”

Cullen cocked his head, reaching out for Rayvin’s hand and giving it a comforting squeeze. “You don’t have to do this.”

Sorrow clouded his features. “Just listen… please.”

“Of course, anything you have to tell me. I’m here for you.”

“My mother always blamed me for everything that went wrong. Nothing I did was good enough in her eyes. My life has never been easy. None of it came without learning the hard lessons. Growing up the way I did, we were always on the move. I’ve lived all over Ferelden in little towns, always to protect Father and Bethany. I always knew what I had to do. I was good at it. Carver, though, always felt like he was stuck in my shadow. He was so eager to prove himself. He wanted to be the great swordsman, but he lacked the skill and focus I had. I think if he hadn’t been so hotheaded he would have found his place in life, not worrying about mine. When Carver was fifteen, he took off, went to Denerim and joined King Cailan’s army. Mind you, this was three years before the Blight began. Then Father died and Carver came home. We fought all the time. He hated being in my shadow. The irony of it was I wasn’t trying to eclipse him. I was content working the farm. Hell, there was even someone from Lothering that I was involved with.”

Rayvin ran his fingers through his hair and rubbed the back of his neck. He felt the bed shift as Cullen moved in behind him and wrapped his arms around his bare torso. Rayvin leaned back in Cullen’s embrace, soaking up the attention he was being given, and let a low growl rumble through his chest. This felt so good. He didn’t ever want to imagine being without it.

“When the Blight began, we both headed for Ostagar. We knew if the darkspawn weren’t defeated that Lothering would be in their path. Everyone knows what a clusterfuck that turned out to be. I was down on the field right in the thick of things. Carver was too. Part of Third Company under Captain Varel. We survived the battle and got the hell out of there as quickly as we could. I know that’s probably considered deserting, but all I could think of was the horde reaching Lothering and no one there to protect Mother and Bethie.”

Cullen nuzzled his face in the crook of Rayvin’s neck and slowly stroked the hard planes of his washboard abdomen. Rayvin let out another husky growl of approval. “Considering the losses at Ostagar, the Crown may not have known the difference. I’m not saying that you didn’t matter. Maker’s breath, that sounded better in my head.”

“I know what you meant, Cullen. When it came right down to it, none of it mattered. We reached the homestead with little time to spare before the horde attacked. We gathered up a few things and ran. Just when we thought we’d made it into the clear, we were beset upon by an Ogre. Carver died defending Mother. That thing snatched him up and smashed him to bits against the ground repeatedly. It was horrifying to watch. Then it flung him aside like a ragdoll and came at the rest of us. Between Aveline, Bethie and I, we succeeded in bringing it down. My mother screamed at me, blamed me for Carver’s death. Said it should have been me and not Carver. For the whole duration of the sea voyage from Gwaren to Kirkwall, she couldn’t even look at me. Wouldn’t speak to me. It got worse when she learned that her brother, Gamlen had sold the family estate to pay gambling debts.

“So to pay our way into the city, Bethie and I ended up indenturing ourselves to a smuggler named Athenril for a year. The work was dangerous, but that didn’t bother me. It kept Bethany safe and that’s what mattered to me. Once we were free and clear, we discovered that my Grandparents had left everything to Mother when we found their will in the vault of the estate and I thought it would make her happy if we could buy it back for her. Raising the money for the Deep Roads Expedition that Varric and Bartrand were undertaking was difficult, but I did it. And we knew that certain questions were being asked about Bethany. I seem to recall even you said something to the effect of ‘I have heard some rumors about your sister, Hawke. I hope they aren’t true.’ Ring a bell?”

Cullen chuckled low in his throat. He then caught one of Rayvin’s earlobes between his teeth and gently nibbled, eliciting a moan. “I remember. We knew about your sister. We also knew where Anders’ clinic was. I told you I came for her.”

“I needed to get her out of Kirkwall, even for just a short while. Mother begged me not to take her with me, but Bethie wanted to go. I just never imagined she’d fall victim to the Blight sickness. The sad part is if Anders had been with us, he could have saved her. It would have been at the expense of her becoming a Grey Warden, but she’d be alive. I didn’t take Anders with me. He hated the Deep Roads. He never really wanted to be a Grey Warden. Rihanna conscripted him to keep him from being dragged back to the Circle. I was forced to take her life to end her suffering. If I could have traded places with her, I would have… in a heartbeat. She was so young. So beautiful.”

Rayvin sniffled and rubbed his face. He blinked back the wetness stinging his eyes, feeling the burn of unspent tears.

“You don’t need to continue,” Cullen hugged him tighter, letting his lips ghost over the shell of Rayvin’s ear. “There is no need for you to torture yourself like this. Let it go. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”

“I know, but hear me out. I dreaded returning to Kirkwall without Bethie. Sure, we had found a shitload of loot in that thaig’s vault, but it wasn’t a success. I felt like the worst failure ever and I knew what my mother’s reaction would be. The way Varric told the story had Gamlen in the house when I returned, but he wasn’t at home. I walked in alone and before I even opened my mouth, my mother came up out of her chair by the fire and slapped me. She demanded to know where Bethany was. When I told her that Bethany caught the Blight sickness and died in the Deep Roads, she beat her fists bloody against the breastplate of my armor. She told me to get out and to never come back. I moved into a room at the Hanged Man for the next few months while Varric used his contacts to sell the artifacts we brought back from the thaig. I won’t say things got better after I’d bought the Amell estate, but she stopped glowering once she could play the part of a Hightown lady once more.

“She hated it that I didn’t want to settle down with some airheaded noble chit and give her some grandchildren. She was even madder when I moved Anders in and shit really hit the fan when Orana, the elven slave I rescued, joined the household staff. I freed Orana and paid her a better wage than any elven housekeeper ever made, but oh no, that shouldn’t be done in this house. We had Bodahn and Sandal, but still it was just out of spitefulness for anything I had done or was doing.

“To top it all off, she became involved with a mystery man, but she wouldn’t tell me anything about him. She told me to mind my own business, that she was a grown woman and while she still loved my father, she knew he would want her to move on and be happy. She said she deserved some happiness after all she had lost and since I wouldn’t settle down and give her grandchildren to fill the empty void in her life that she had found something that would. I was hardly ever home. There was always some problem I was being asked to take care of. Hawke do this. Hawke do that. Then I came home one night and found a bouquet of white lilies in the house.”

Cullen’s brow drew close together, furrowing. “White lilies? I seem to remember that was the calling card of the Kirkwall Killer. The Templars of Kirkwall investigated his lair beneath the foundry. I remember that place vividly. The remains of all those women he killed and the stench.”

He shivered.

Rayvin shook his head. “You still don’t know the half of it. What you found in the aftermath was nothing in comparison to what we saw while we were trying to find her. Quentin was a sick bastard. He selected the women he murdered because they had traits or features that resembled his dead wife. He used them to reconstruct her. The first time I was in that foundry was when I was searching for what happened to Ninette de Carrac. I found a bag of bones and a ring that turned out to be hers. I should have known there was more to that place than what we saw.”

“I remember that. Meredith eventually forbade Emeric from continuing his investigation after he convinced the Kirkwall guard to raid the wrong house, a house that belonged to a minor Orlesian noble, if I recall correctly.”

“Yes, Gascard. He was a blood mage.” Rayvin replied. “Oh, you didn’t know that. I suppose it doesn’t matter now because he’s dead. He knew Quentin, had been a pupil and wanted Quentin to teach him the secrets of necromancy. Varric shot a crossbow bolt through his throat. Ended that quickly.”

“Tell me what really happened.” Cullen hoped that if Rayvin got it out in the open what was bothering him that he might be able to make peace with it. He could tell this was really bothering Hawke and would do whatever he could for him.

“When the flowers showed up and she missed her visit with Gamlen, Aveline of course had the City Guard out looking for her. Of course, Aveline accompanied me, Varric and Anders where our search led us to that foundry. This time that bastard had left his secret trap door uncovered. We were attacked by shades and demons the whole way through that underground complex. Then we found his living quarters and the creepiest shrine I’ve ever seen. There was this portrait of a woman. She looked like my mother and there were these odd notes about the various women who had turned up missing, like Mharen, the circle mage. The note about her had something to do with her hands and her long fingers. Another note said something about someone’s fair skin. We found books on necromancy and other subjects as well as a letter written on Circle of Magi stationary signed with the letter ‘O’. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that ‘O’ was First Enchanter Orsino. Who else would have access to the kind of books that Quentin was asking for? And to top it all off, Orsino knew about Quentin, knew about his research. I was in such a rage after seeing that shrine and then I found something hidden under his bed - a shield with the Amell crest on it. I was already enraged when I found her locket, but finding the shield sent me into a frenzy.

“I ran through the corridors of his lair until I found Quentin. I ripped through all the demons he summoned, all the undead he conjured, and when he was foolish enough to face me, I took him apart brutally. Aveline said afterwards she had never seen anyone do what I had done to him. I think I scared her. Anders couldn’t do anything to save my mother because it was the necromantic magic that was keeping her alive. That bastard, Quentin, took her head and sewed it onto someone else’s body. The eyes that were in the eye sockets weren’t hers. Everything about her was wrong. He turned her into a zombie. She collapsed into my arms and she looked up at me with those dead eyes…” Rayvin shuddered and swallowed the lump that formed in his throat. He drew his lower lip between his teeth in an effort to stem the tide of the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him.

“Varric’s story claimed she said ‘I’m so proud of you. My little boy has grown so strong. I love you.’ Don’t believe it. That’s as far from the truth as it can get. She cursed me for being the one still alive. She said she hated me and wished I’d have died at birth instead of my younger sister, Marian. I had another sibling. I don’t remember her. All I know is I was three at the time when she was born. This was before Bethie and Carver. My mother died in my arms and I reacted monstrously to what she had said. I doused that zombie body with whiskey from the flask I had on me and lit it on fire. Of course, I had Aveline screaming at me for being disrespectful. ‘She should be laid to rest properly.’ I told her right then and there if anyone found out the truth of what happened there they’d have me to deal with. So far, the only ones who know the truth are the ones who were there and now you.”

“Maker’s breath, Rayvin… I can’t even…”

“And people wonder why I am the way I am, why I drink so much. All of that was covered up. The four of us cleaned up that bastard’s lair. What the templars found was a small fraction of what we initially encountered. Things worsened on the homefront. Uncle Gamlen thought he would berate me for his sister’s death. He really didn’t care about her. All he cared about was the stipend he received from her. I beat him within an inch of his life, nearly killed him and threw him out of my estate. I told him if he came back, he’d be leaving in a coffin and that I would no longer be paying off his gambling debts or his tab at the Blooming Rose. Well, he took the matter to the City Guard and I ended up serving time in jail. That was all covered up as well.”

“I don’t... even know what to say.” Cullen stammered. He knew Rayvin had been through a great deal of hardship, but he had not been prepared to hear anything like this. His heart ached for Rayvin. He wanted to make things better for him.

“Anders and I came very close to splitting up during that time. He tried to comfort me, but there was nothing he could do or say that was going to help. Before I ended up in jail, we had this huge argument and I threw him out. We patched things up once I had served my time and he forgave me for the things I had said. Truth be told we both said some terrible things to each other. I will say one thing about the relationship I had with him; it was never dull.”

Cullen shook his head. This was beyond anything he’d ever experienced and that was saying something considering everything he had been through. “Is that what I have to look forward to with you? A life that is never dull.”

“Depends, if that means what I think it means.”

“We shall see. Perhaps we should get some rest.”

Rayvin slipped out of his trousers and made himself comfortable under the blankets. Cullen joined him, spooning him.

“Night, love.”

***

Scene 2: Early morning after sex chat (NSFW)

Rayvin awoke to a mumbling, trembling bedmate. Usually it was he who suffered from nightmares. He placed his hand on Cullen’s shoulder, gently giving it a shake. “It’s alright, love. I’m here,” he murmured.

“Wha-” he muttered as the feel of Rayvin’s touch startled him awake. He exhaled heavily as his eyes fluttered open then he rubbed his face.

Concern filled Rayvin’s deep blue eyes, “I take it I’m not the only one who suffers from bad dreams.”

“The things I’ve been through, everything I’ve seen… Being without lyrium, it makes it worse, but I can endure.” Cullen murmured softly. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”

Rayvin shook his head, “I usually don’t sleep well.” He pressed against Cullen’s side and rested his head on Cullen’s chest. “I’ve been like this for years. Being on the run tends to do that to you.”

He felt Cullen’s hand tangle in his hair, stroking gently.  “After the battle with Meredith, I let you go. Why were you on the run?”

Rayvin smiled, “I thought the answer to that would be fairly obvious. I was protecting Anders. There were rumors of an Exalted March being called on Kirkwall. I thought if I left it might spare the city. I found out later once the circles all started falling that I needn’t have bothered. Though, we did help a few of the circles take that final step. I’m sure that’s something you aren’t thrilled to hear, being an ex-Templar, but it’s the truth.”

Cullen chuckled, “Considering Anders was involved it doesn’t surprise me. I know how much his death hurt you, but it led you here… to me.” Cullen rolled to his side and pulled Rayvin up into his arms. He placed a kiss on Rayvin’s brow. “I can’t be sorry about that.”

Rayvin wrapped an arm around Cullen, “I suppose not. We were together for years. I never thought I would lose him like that. I knew it would eventually happen, because of the taint. He’ll always be part of me.” He nuzzled his face into Cullen’s neck, licking his way up Cullen’s throat to his ear.

Taking it his lips, he gently nibbled, eliciting a shiver from Cullen. “I-I remember Anders at the Ferelden Circle. For the most part, he was regarded as a reckless scamp by Greagoir and Irving. I never thought… he’d turn out -.” A moan caused by Rayvin’s ministrations slipped from Cullen’s lips, preventing him from speaking any further.

“That was because of Justice,” Rayvin replied, letting go of his ear. He kissed his way back down Cullen’s neck to the base of his throat, stopping to nibble at his collarbone. Cullen let out another moan, pulling Rayvin back up for a kiss. Cullen leaned closer as he lifted Rayvin’s chin a bit higher. His masculine scent wafted over Rayvin. He breathed it in, tasting the musky aroma. His warm breath feathered across Rayvin’s cheek. So close. Cullen’s lips ghosted over his corded neck. He nibbled up Rayvin’s jaw to his ear, teasing his as his tongue flicked along his lobe. Rayvin quivered as all his synapses fired at once, sending heat straight to his hardening cock. Then Cullen embraced him tighter, capturing Rayvin’s lips in another dynamic kiss, long, needy and hard. He thrust his tongue into Rayvin’s mouth, pantomiming lovemaking. After a long while Rayvin broke the kiss, panting breathlessly.

Cullen wanted more, but he knew their time was short. They would have to head out soon. He knew the march to the Western Approach would not provide any time for them to be alone. Yet there were so much he wanted to do, so much he wanted to say. He would just have to be content with enjoying the last few moments of alone time they were spending together.

“May I… ask you something?” Cullen ventured hesitantly.

A grin crossed Rayvin’s face, “Of course, what do you want to know?”

“I- I was curious about something you said last night. You, ah, said you had- Maker’s breath…” He brought a hand up to rub his brow. He wasn’t sure why repeating Rayvin’s words were so difficult, but it was.

A chuckle rumbled through Rayvin’s chest. He pushed himself up on his elbow, “Ah, you want to know if I was telling the truth when I admitted I had wanted you for years. Yes, Cullen, I was. I may be many things, but a liar is not one of them. I’ve never been one to spew pretty lies just to get someone in bed.”

He drew in a deep breath and brought his hand up to stroke Cullen’s jaw. “I still remember the first time I saw you. It was while I was trying to find Keran for his sister. You had just pulled your sword on that recruit, Wilmod then kneed him.”

Rayvin’s eyes glittered impudently. An ornery smirk crossed his face as he continued. “All I can say is it is a good thing I was wearing heavy armor. If not my cock would have burst out of my pants and I’d never have heard the end of it from Varric or Anders. I do believe that was the first time we’d ever fought side by side. It was a good fight. Afterwards once I’d done my investigating at the Rose, I told Varric, Anders and Isabela I’d see them later, I spent what little coin I had buying a couple hours with Jethann and rode his ass, all the while thinking about the very handsome templar I had just met.”

“Maker’s Breath!” Cullen flushed a bright red, “Weren’t you and Anders involved?”

A bark of laughter slipped from Rayvin’s lips, his eyes twinkling mischievously, “Nah… that didn’t happen until three years later. There was plenty of flirting, though. At the time I was quite single and I quite happily made the rounds with Isabela, Brennan, Macha… yes, I slept with Brennan, too and Keran’s sister.  Fuck, knowing me back then, I probably would have slept with Keran too, if he’d have said he was interested. There were others as well.”

An astounded look crossed Cullen’s face, “Maker’s Breath! That was more than I needed to know,” he sputtered indignantly.

“You did ask,” Rayvin smirked.

Cullen sighed at Rayvin’s audacity, “There was a ginger-haired elf at the Rose who offered himself to me, free of charge. He said he’d heard about me. I threatened to have him arrested. Maker’s Breath, now I know why.”

Hawke’s laughter filled the room, “Could be. Or it could be that you are very handsome and worthy of someone’s notice despite that the fact you think you aren’t.”

Cullen’s eyes flicked away for a moment, “I know what I am. Who I am. It took me years to come to terms with what happened in Ferelden at the Circle tower.”

Rayvin leaned forward, planting a kiss at the corners of his lips. “I do remember how fondly you spoke of Rihanna back then. It was after I’d reclaimed the Amell estate for my mother. I’ll have to admit I felt some jealousy towards her. I never imagined hearing how you spoke of her that you’d ever be interested in me. So I buried those feelings and moved on. I still couldn’t stay away, though. You do know that’s the reason that every time I came to the Gallows I stopped to talk to you, even if it was just about something trivial.”

Cullen’s golden gaze locked with Rayvin’s, “We’re together now, that’s all that matters. I won’t let you go. Promise me you’ll stop antagonizing Trevelyan. He’s jealous of you and I have a feeling what happened after the sparring match is only the beginning. I don’t want to lose you.”

“I’m not going anywhere and I’m not worried about Trevelyan. Honestly, he’ll never defeat Corypheus. Not without a fucking miracle. He’s a piss poor warrior. That mark is the only thing special about him.” Rayvin shrugged his shoulders. It would take a hell of a lot more than Inquisitor Aedan Trevelyan to tear them apart.

Cullen shook his head, fearing what may come happen at Adamant. If he knew anything at all about Trevelyan, he knew the man was unwilling to let things go. It worried him.

“How about we take advantage of the last few moments we have?” Hungry blue eyes gazed up, meeting Cullen’s, devouring him, and reflecting his need.

Cullen reciprocated with a growl of approval, his hips jerking against Rayvin’s, rubbing against his hardness. He pushed his fears aside, deciding to focus on the here and now. “I would like that,” his voice dropped an octave, the sensuous purr sending ripples through Rayvin, increasing his hunger.

His lips brushed across Cullen’s cheek to linger near his ear. Rayvin nibbled Cullen’s earlobe before dropping lower, working his way down his neck to his pecs. He found one of Cullen’s pebbled nipples, sucking it between his lips, “Good because I am going to enjoy making you scream.”

Cullen groaned, pressing into that sucking mouth. Secretly he was all for Rayvin’s greedy lips devouring his cock again, though he knew could not have found the words to express that desire. He longed to quench this insatiable desire that Rayvin had stoked inside him. The man was a fire in his blood. It had been too long since he’d seen to his own wants. Come hell or high water, not even the coming battle would deter him.

Rayvin kept his eyes trained on Cullen’s as he switched sides, rolling the first nipple between his thumb and forefinger while he sucked on the second one. He felt Cullen’s cock swelling against his own, thickening further. It desired his attention and Rayvin would not neglect it further. Kissing his way down, he focused on the feast directly before his eyes.

The cock before him was jutting out deliciously, a tiny drop of pre-come oozing from its tip. “So delish,” he blew a warm breath across the glans, watching as the length twitched. “What a glorious sight.”

Rayvin winked up at Cullen before he drew his cock into his mouth. He alternated between long, languorous licks and deep, sultry sucking.  Cullen bucked his hips, squirming. He’d never felt anything like this before. There had been a few lovers in his past, but none had taken him to such heights so quickly. He teetered on the precipice, listening to Rayvin suck and slurp, sensuous hums vibrating through him.

When Rayvin moved one hand to fondle his heavy sacs, Cullen moaned louder, thoroughly uncaring about the noise bouncing off the walls, his eruption dangerously close.

“Tastes as good as it looks,” Rayvin murmured, kissing around the shaft. He placed little teasing licks here and there, feeling the velvety heat quiver beneath his tongue.

Cullen hissed, his fingers caressing the back of Rayvin’s head, delving into the thick strands of his hair, “Don’t stop! Oh, Maker, don’t stop!”

“What are you waiting for, love? You want this,” Massaging his ball sac, Rayvin sucked the throbbing cock with all his strength, relaxing his throat to take him deep. He felt it swell, balls drawing up.

Cullen growled the word out, “Nnnnghhhh! Maker!” Thick streams of creamy cum shot down Rayvin’s greedy throat. He lapped and sucked, unwilling to miss savoring even the tiniest morsel of it. He moved both hands to the Cullen’s tight ass, clutching the taut cheeks firmly while he swallowed the offering he’d been craving. Strong sucks kept the flow coming, until Cullen nearly shouted for all of Skyhold to hear.

“Maker’s breath,” Cullen panted breathlessly, watching as Rayvin slurped up the last of the juice, licking him clean. Then he crawled back up the length of Cullen’s body, snuggling into him.

Rayvin’s voice was husky with need. “Kiss me.”

A heartbeat later, Cullen’s mouth mashed against his, kissing him with fervor. His hands were all over Rayvin, caressing every inch of skin he could reach. Nothing was left unexplored. His tongue plied Rayvin’s mouth open, plunged into it and swept over his palate as if he had been yearning for it for a long time. Strong hands moved to cup Rayvin’s taut buttocks, squeezing the hard mounds tightly.

Rayvin moaned deep in his throat, his breath mingling with Cullen’s. His hard length nudged Cullen’s belly, oozing a trail of pre-cum against his flesh.

As their kissing grew more heated, his hand strayed from Rayvin’s ass across his hip to his thigh, before dropping to his groin. Tentatively Cullen grasped Rayvin’s cock, hissing at the scorching feel of the velvety member.

Rayvin groaned, which made Cullen bolder. His fingers curled around Rayvin’s hard length, stroking it from base to tip. Rayvin flexed his hips, thrusting into the Cullen’s hand.

“Someone’s very hard,” Cullen murmured against Rayvin’s mouth, his thumb teasing the sensitive underside.

“Maker, Cullen,” he shuddered. “Yesss…”

Rayvin writhed against Cullen as his strokes became more insistent. He was close. He knew he wouldn’t last much longer. Cullen’s touch was intoxicating. He moaned loudly, his breath coming out in harsh pants as he snapped his hips in sync with the hand jacking his cock.

Cullen pressed Rayvin flush against the bed, giving him greater access. Experimentally Cullen engulfed the tip of Rayvin’s throbbing member with his mouth, gingerly tasting it as his one hand tugged at the base while the other gently squeezed his balls. His tongue swirled around it, sweeping over the sensitive glans.

Rayvin gave a hoarse shout as he felt his balls explode, shoving his hand in Cullen’s hair while he flexed hips upward. He pushed his cock deeper into Cullen’s mouth as the first blast of his orgasm spurted out.

Quickly Cullen backed off, glancing up with wide-eyed wonder at Rayvin. The next few spurts landed on Rayvin’s belly. It was then that Rayvin’s hand covered Cullen’s, milking the orgasm for as long as he could.

As soon as he caught his breath, he smirked at Cullen, “Sorry I didn’t have time to warn you to back off. It just felt so good. It’s been so long since I was touched like that.”

Despite the blush that stained Cullen’s cheeks, he did not demur. “I knew you were close. I should have realized. I- I just wanted to know what it was like… how you would…” His sentence trailed off, but Rayvin understood what he meant.

It warmed him to the core that Cullen would try. He reached for Cullen, bestowing upon him a breathtaking kiss.

“How did I ever get so lucky?” Rayvin murmured.

A pounding thud against one of the tower’s doors interrupted Cullen’s response. He knew it was time to get up and face the day, no matter how much he wanted to remain here with Rayvin.

Adamant awaited them, but he had every confidence that they would be victorious.

***

Scene 3: Camping out in the desert

The army camped near a shaded oasis amidst the miles and miles of endless sand stretching out as far as the eye could see. Today was like many of the days they’d experienced recently, marching for miles and miles through the inhospitable desert as temperatures soared. Though they took breaks during the march for food and water and to rest the horses, it was still monotonous and many hoped they’d reach their destination soon.

A strong, cool breeze wafted through the large camp, causing some of the campfires to flutter. While there was no danger in them being blown out, it caused many of the men to claim there were spirits about, waiting to possess them, turning them into foul abominations.

At the largest campfire at the heart of the camp sat Commander Cullen, his lieutenants and of course, the Champion. They had enjoyed a meal that hadn’t consisted of rations and hard tack, but of real meat, potatoes and vegetables. The mood of the camp was enthusiastic, as many of the soldiers still looked forward to testing their mettle against such legendary warriors as the Grey Wardens. Even if the thought of demons gave them some pause. Many had fought and killed demons since the Conclave had been destroyed. It helped and bolstered their courage to have a legendary fighter like the Champion on their side. Plus if it helped the Inquisitor save the world from such a madman like Corypheus, it would all be worth it.

While many of the men played cards, gambled or sharpened their weapons, there were others who gathered around the central fire to participate in the storytelling. Presently the Champion had the floor, so to speak. And the ones gathered were all ears, eager to hear the tales of the man’s exploits.

All eyes were on him as he spoke, his hands moving as rapidly as his mouth as he spun his tale for them. Considering that he was best friends with a well known author and storyteller like Varric Tethras, many assumed the dwarf’s skills had rubbed off on the Champion. What most didn’t realize was that Rayvin Hawke had always had a flair for the dramatic and that he loved being the center of attention.

Laughter erupted throughout the crowd as he finished telling his amusing anecdote. From within the crowd stepped a young woman carrying a lute, she held it out to Rayvin, “Would you please sing something next? I heard you in the tavern once and you have a wonderful voice.”

A smile crossed his face, “I suppose I can oblige you.” He accepted the lute. “Anything in particular you’d like to hear?”

“Something inspiring…” she ventured.

He thought for a few seconds, “I know just the song.” Then started strumming the lute to the tune of a song he liked. It had certainly meant something to him and would fill the request quite nicely.

“I'm counting on my bruises/I'm not counting on myself/I've been wreaking all this havoc
'Cause I thought it’d suit me well/Never careful what I wish for/Never careful with what I say
Always begging for attention/In my sick and twisted way

If I could reach the stars

There's hope for the hopeless/Now that I know this/You give me the strength to carry on
The voice in the silence/Is crushing the violence/It's giving me a chance to right these wrongs
I will never quit, this is it/'Cause there's hope for the hopeless/Hope for the hopeless

I'm sitting in the shadows/As the bodies hit the floor/And I don't need another reason
Why I can't take anymore/I'm so sick of these excuses/Tired of living in the dark
And I won't be another victim/Starving from an empty heart

I'll rise to reach the stars

There's hope for the hopeless/Now that I know this/You give me the strength to carry on
The voice in the silence/Is crushing the violence/It's giving me a chance to right these wrongs
I will never quit, this is it/'Cause there's hope for the hopeless

I won't suffocate in pride/I won't die in apathy/I stood out on the edge and faced eternity
Saw freedom in the fall when I finally believed/I'd never be alone

There's hope for the hopeless/Now that I know this/You give me the strength to carry on
The voice in the silence/Is crushing the violence/It's giving me a chance to right these wrongs
I will never quit, this is it/'Cause there's hope for the hopeless/Hope for the hopeless...”

The crowd erupted in cheers and loud whistles. He high-fived a few of the soldiers who were close by then handed the lute back to the young woman, who hugged him tightly and planted a kiss on his cheek.

When he sat back down, his eyes locked with Cullen’s fondly. He gave the Commander a slight wink before picking up his drink.

The stories continued long into the night. After a while he managed to make his escape back to his tent. As much as he’d love to have some time alone with Cullen, he knew it wasn’t to be.

He vowed that after Adamant nothing would keep them apart.

***

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten: The Siege of Adamant

The siege was about to begin. The trebuchets were in place. The battering ram had been hauled up into position where it would be needed to breach the main gate. And they had ladders to scale the walls. Rayvin was ready. The men Cullen assigned Hawke were also ready for battle. The battalion of men he was to lead had gathered near the Commander’s tent, all thrilled to be joined by a legendary figure such as the Champion of Kirkwall.

Hawke in his full heavy Champion armor, with its blood red scarf draped across the sculptured breastplate and chainmail accents covering the greaves, made for an intimidating sight. He had pulled his hair into one long braid order to keep it out of his face. Hopefully that would also keep the demon goo out of it. On his back was his Warblade, a two-handed greatsword almost as long as he was tall. When it had been commissioned for him after the defeat of the Arishok, he often joked that it weighed more than Merrill.

Rayvin ducked into the central command tent as many of Cullen’s senior officers and agents filtered out. He found the handsome Commander hunched over several familiar looking maps. Moving to Cullen’s side, Hawke leaned against the desk, listening as Cullen confidently issued orders. One by one the rest of his officers exited, leaving only them behind.

Cullen sighed as he straightened, gripping the pommel of his sword. “Ready, Hawke?” Butterflies fluttered about in the pit of Cullen’s gut. He couldn’t recall the last time when he felt this way entering a battle. It had been awhile since there was so much to lose. Cullen’s worry was twofold. Not only for the brave men and women under his command against the Grey Wardens and possible demon army they would be summoning, but for Rayvin as well, especially since Trevelyan held quite the grudge against him. This battle was the perfect opportunity to make good on the threats he’d made.

An enigmatic smirk crossed Hawke’s rugged features, “Was that a serious question? I was born ready. Let’s get this show on the road.” He pushed away from the table, a ball of pent-up energy. He bounced up and down on the balls of his feet, surprisingly agile for someone so large.

Cullen tried to pin an exasperated look upon Rayvin, but realized he had failed horribly.  He couldn’t be cross with him, not when it was in Hawke’s nature to be a smartass. He let himself relax for the moment, going for it. His voice dropped an octave, his eyes smoldering with molten intensity. He leaned close to Rayvin, “You are being a naughty Hawke. Keep this up and I may have to punish you. I’ll make sure the punishment fits the crime.”

Rayvin groaned low in his throat, closing the distance for a searing kiss. “I’ll make sure I’m extra naughty then,” he quipped as he reached down beneath the chainmail flap to readjust himself. He muttered a curse, “Fuck! Sending me into battle hard as a rock! Now that is cause for punishment. When this battle is done, you and I are finding a room and there will be hell to pay if anyone disturbs us.”

“One more thing I’m sure Rylen will have a field day over.” Cullen pulled the fur collar back from his neck, exposing the dark love bite. “I’ve heard nothing but teasing and snickers since he and the rest of my officers saw it. You did that on purpose.”

Rayvin purred in a blatantly sexual voice, “Claiming what is mine, oh yes, Commander. I enjoyed marking you.”

A groan slipped from Cullen’s lips as he hardened, his cock tenting his smallclothes, making them uncomfortably tight. Cullen felt a hand grope downwards, stroking him through his leathers.

Rayvin then planted a hard, demanding kiss on Cullen’s lips, swallowing the curse that followed.

Breathlessly he rested his forehead against Cullen’s. With his eyes closed, he whispered, his voice sincere, “I know you’re worried and I can tell you not to, but I promise I’ll be careful. I can defeat demons with one arm tied behind my back. The Warden blood mages… Trust me I learned a thing or two about fighting blood mages living in Kirkwall. I’ve never known a blood mage who could get the better of a Reaver. I’ll come back to you.”

Cullen’s hands came up to cup Rayvin’s face, “I’ll hold you to that. Now you had better go while I am able to let you.”

“Not before I give you one more kiss,” Rayvin purred. “I want it back when this battle is over.”

Rayvin tangled his fingers in the fur of Cullen's coat, drawing him close. Their lips met, and Cullen let out a soft sigh. Within seconds what began as soft and tender changed to needy and passionate. Teeth collided and tongues tangled in a desperate burst of passion. With lips biting, devouring, Rayvin crushed Cullen's lips with a lot more heat this time, humming his pleasure as he aggressively explored the soft contours of Cullen's mouth.

Cullen broke away first, breathing heavily.

“Maker, Rayvin,” he whispered shakily. “I need you to come back. I - I would be -”

But Rayvin crushed his lips again in another passionate kiss, interrupting his lover’s words. He then broke away, leaving the tent without a backwards glance.

Cullen sighed as he saw Rayvin leave. He had a bad feeling, it was gnawing at the bottom of his stomach, fighting to make its way to the surface. He recognized the feeling and realized it wasn’t just one. There were two feelings, merged into one. They pushed upward and it didn’t matter that he was trying so hard to keep them down.  

Fear and sorrow, mixed together. Fear and sorrow made their way to his heart and remained there.

For he was sure he would not see Rayvin again.

***

In the thick of battle was where Rayvin truly thrived. With chaos swirling all around him, his mind was focused on one clear objective. Victory. His attacks were hard and punishing. He swung his greatsword about with practiced ease, obliterating all the demons in his path. His ascent up the ladder had been thrilling, engaging a half dozen Wardens as he crested onto the battlements. While they were experienced warriors in their own right, none of them proved to be a match for the Champion. He was in a league all of his own.

He felt a few pangs of regret, however, when it came to fighting the mages. Yet he had to remind himself that while his Anders had indeed been a Grey Warden mage once in his life, the healer never would have used blood magic. He was passionately against the practice. Rayvin believed just as Anders had about many subjects. Mages deserved to be free to live their lives as normal people did as long as they were taught to properly taught to use their gifts. Education was key. His father had instilled that as he helped Bethany nurture her talent.

On he fought, taking down demons and Wardens alike until he and the men Cullen had sent with him had cleared this section of the battlements. So they moved on, encountering more resistance. A few of the soldiers fell, but he saved many more. He fought harder than he had in a long time… not since he and Anders had been cornered by Sebastian’s army. Guilt seized his heart and he struggled to unburden himself from it. That kind of thinking at a time like this would only serve to get himself killed and he had a promise to keep. He closed his eyes as he cleaved his greatsword through the amorphous mass of a rage demon, an image of Cullen’s bedroom eyes and kiss swollen lips fully manifesting. With a groan he reopened them, a whisper on his lips, “Soon, love, soon.”

He needed to clear his head. Demons were tricksy bastards who would prey upon any weakness, real or imagined. He didn’t want a demon of desire getting into his head, manipulating him over his blossoming feelings for the handsome Commander. Or worse yet, a despair demon reminding him of his failure to protect everyone he ever loved, especially Anders.  

Focus , he berated himself as he eviscerated the pack of shades that surrounded him with a whirlwind maneuver.

He fought his way to a large open area. Several enemy mages had conjured demons, everything from wraiths and terrors to despair demons. When he and his men had whittled down the number of enemies to just one mage and one despair demon, the mage conjured forth a Pride Demon.

Rayvin cursed very loudly. That fucking mage was really pissing him off. He dug deep into his reserves, relying on his Reaver abilities to power through the mage’s defenses. A shade slammed into him from the side as he swirled his sword overhead, then brought it down, cleaving the mage’s head clean off his shoulders. He spun around and with a pulverizing kick, drove the shade backwards a few feet, allowing him to bring the sword down on the creature’s head. It sliced through its leathery skin. The demon roared before bursting into goo.

A commotion on the battlements caused him to glance up as he engaged the Pride Demon. The battle cry of a female warrior accompanied by the rhythmic thudding of crossbow bolts being expertly launched from Bianca while a rain of fire and ice came hurling from Dorian’s staff. Alistair and Trevelyan joined the fray, their brutal shield bashes and sword strikes tearing the demons apart as Cassandra’s Seeker abilities did more harm to their foes from within.

It spurred Rayvin on to fight all the more harder, bolstered by friends and mostly allies. It had been years since he had fought at alongside Varric. Truly it felt great. It brought back memories. He hoped this wasn’t the last time, either.

“Varric,” he called out over the din of battle as he skillfully evaded the Pride Demon’s lightning whip attack and slammed his sword into its flank.

“Think you might save something for the rest of us?” Varric shot back, a lopsided grin on his face as another volley of crossbow bolts shot forth from Bianca, sinking into the torso of the gigantic demon.

“Fuck no! I figured I’d win this one single-handedly. Just like old times.” A shit eating grin plastered on Rayvin’s face.

Clearly, he was enjoying himself.

Alistair, Trevelyan and Cassandra joined Hawke and between them beating on it up close along with Dorian’s fire and ice magic and Varric’s ranged attacks, they destroyed the Pride Demon. With it gone, this section of the battlements was clear.

Before Trevelyan and his small party took off to further remove resistance from the walls, he turned to Hawke, “What orders did Cullen give you for the battle?”

Hawke’s eyes narrowed and lips pursed as he wondered why he wanted to know, but this was not the time and place to fight with him. “To clear the battlements of any and all resistance in order to carve you a path to Warden-Commander Clarel. I’ll stay with your forces and keep the demons off them, Your Worship,” he drawled sarcastically even as a sneer settled on his lips.

Trevelyan rolled his eyes, but let it go. In a battle such as this, any number of things could happen. There was one more area they needed to clear in order for the main host of his army to be able to get a foothold on the ladders. If they were to capture the fortress, the battlements needed to be clear. He headed off, leading his small party away from Hawke. Next he knew he’d have to find Clarel and put a stop to whatever ritual the Warden-Commander had planned.

Rayvin and the remaining dozen men followed, but deviated to another portion of the battlements. It took little effort to clear it of the wraiths and shades. Then he moved on, heading down a flight of stairs where he found a couple Inquisition soldiers fighting off a rage demon. One of the men was favoring an arm and it was more than evident the other was suffering from some burns. He tore into the demon, striking it as hard as he could before running his long blade all the way through it.

When Trevelyan’s party reached them, he sent the injured off to be tended to and begrudgingly thanked Rayvin for his efforts to protect the brave men and women who fought under the Inquisition’s banner, even though the look on his face suggested he’d rather suck on sour grapes.

Rayvin joined his party, heading directly to the inner bailey where the Wardens were conducting their ritual. The scene before them as they all entered was that out of a nightmare. Ensorcelled mages stood in a ring around a ritual circle projecting magical energy up at a blossoming rift while the Venatori mage Erimond and the Warden-Commander oversaw the proceeding. Through the ghastly green gloom of the rift a monstrous, pockmarked creature loomed.

Just as Clarel finished slitting the throat of a young elven woman, someone Rayvin vaguely remembered seeing in Crestwood, they marched to the forefront, interrupting the proceedings.

“Warden-Commander Clarel!” Inquisitor Trevelyan yelled. “If you do not stop this now, you will make a terrible mistake!”

“Do not listen to him,” Magister Erimond hissed at Clarel from where he stood. They were both standing on the top of a landing in front of the stone staircase that led down to the courtyard. Erimond was standing right next to the Warden-Commander and was responsible for everything that had happened so far. Corypheus had sent him as his Commanding Officer to oversee the rituals and convert as many of he could in order to turn the Warden mages into his slaves.

“You are surrounded by Inquisition soldiers, your Wardens are dead!” Trevelyan yelled next. Rayvin turned his head and clearly saw he was losing control as anger started to surface and was visible on his face.

“We have worked for this, Clarel! Do not let them sway you! This demon is worthy of your power!” Erimond hissed again, standing fast by the Warden-Commander’s side.

Rayvin frowned, he knew he shouldn’t get involved, but he just had to. It was clear to him that Trevelyan would take this to an extreme and all hell would break loose.

“Warden-Commander,” Rayvin shouted, taking a step forward. “If you do this you are doing exactly what Erimond wants!”

“And what is it that I am supposedly doing, hmm? Do I even KNOW you? You are not the Inquisitor!” Erimond spat down at Hawke.

“But I know that bastard you call a ‘Master’. Give Corypheus my regards and tell him Hawke is coming for him. This time I’ll make sure to finish the job.”

“I do not recall your name. But that is not my concern here. You will see the ritual complete, Clarel will not listen to your lies!”

Hawke turned to Alistair, who was standing behind him. “A little help, here? You’re a Warden aren’t you?”

Alistair nodded and stood right next to Hawke. He addressed Clarel directly and told her she was being lied to.

“If you do this, Clarel, Corypheus will succeed in turning you into his slave. Just like he’s done to the rest of the Warden mages,” Alistair ended up saying.

“Corypheus?” Clarel started, seemingly taken aback from what she’d heard. “But, Corypheus is dead!”

“These people will say whatever they want to in order to convince you! Do not listen to them!”

“Corypheus has taken your mages, Clarel!” Alistair shouted. “Do NOT let him win!”

Clarel rubbed her forehead, deep in thought. Erimond kept a close watch on her. When she lifted her head he saw it was the beginning of the end. She turned to look at Erimond. The doubt there was clear.

“Perhaps we should stop all this to avoid more bloodshed?” She said in a strong voice. “Maybe there is some truth to what they are saying?”

“Or,” Erimond sneered, his anger making him flush a burgundy color, “perhaps we should call in a more RELIABLE ally!”

“My Master salutes you, Inquisitor! He showed me how to call something that will win this in case things turned sour! Allow me to fulfill my Master’s bidding!”

Erimond slammed the tip of his staff against the stone floor thrice in quick succession. At that moment they heard flapping of great wings and a huge dragon appeared over their heads. Trevelyan and the rest of his team, along with Alistair, Hawke and the soldiers had to dodge the dragon’s breath, which was not fire as expected but a blast of red lyrium, corruption in its vilest form. The dragon itself was not a normal dragon. Both Trevelyan and his team, as well as the soldiers had seen it before when it destroyed the village of Haven. It was Corypheus’s dragon. A thing of nightmare, patched here and there with actual red lyrium growth in several parts of its body.

A smug look crossed the Tevinter magister’s face. The Inquisitor’s interruption had merely delayed the inevitable. Once the dragon took care of them, the ritual would commence. It wouldn’t be long before he gifted Corypheus his severed hand upon a silver platter and reaped the rewards that the Grand Duchess had failed to garner.

Clarel turned a murderous look at Erimond, finally understanding what was happening. She aimed at the dragon and cast a powerful electricity spell against it, paying no heed to Erimond’s plea to stop.  The beast fixed its malevolent eyes upon her and roared its displeasure. Clarel turned to the wardens assembled in the courtyard when Erimond ran off. She yelled at them to help the Inquisitor and ran after Erimond, leaving the whole group in the courtyard.

Of course, the group she left behind were the warden mages that were already slaves to Corypheus, so instead of helping the Inquisitor they summoned demons and attacked the Inquisitor. Hawke groaned to himself as he fought. What a mess!  What he really wanted to do was sprint after Clarel and kill that bloody mage Erimond. Immediately afterwards, he’d send the remains to Corypheus with a note that read: ‘Greetings from your friend Hawke.’

After finishing up the demons and warden mages, they quickly sprinted towards the stairs, running to catch up with Clarel. Rayvin stuck close to Varric, fighting at his best friend’s side as if not a day had gone by since they had last done it. Varric would shoot a volley of bolts low while Rayvin would slam his sword high into whatever manner of demon crossed their paths during the running fight that took them to the highest point of Adamant.

As Erimond and Clarel faced off against each other, the dragon circled. The Warden-Commander hissed at him, accusing him of destroying her order, but the biting realization was that she was responsible for that and all it took was a little power being dangled in front of her. It was a bitter pill to swallow. She struck out against Erimond, casting a devastating lightning attack which sent him sliding across the stone walkway.

Moments later, the dragon swooped down, grabbing Clarel up in its great jaws, much to the horror of those who were watching. It swung her sideways left to right and then flung her to the stone walkway where she lay bloodied and broken, barely alive.

The dragon turned its gaze towards the Inquisitor and his team, its roar echoing through the skies. Rayvin drew his sword from his back, ready to take on the beast if he must. This thing would have to die if they were going to live. That’s how it usually went with dragons.

From beneath the great beast came the crackle of magic accompanied a voice reciting the Grey Warden motto, “In War, Victory. In Peace, Vigilance…” The lightning blast she held in her hand erupted against the underbelly of the beast. It shrieked in pain, flailing about mightily causing the aging stone of the walkway to crumble beneath their feet.

Rayvin, Alistair, Varric, Trevelyan, Dorian, and Cassandra scrambled forth, desperately trying to find purchase on a section of the walkway that had not yet shattered under the beast’s great weight, but it was not to be. As it fell so did they, plunging headlong into the deep abyss. Trevelyan did the only thing he could that would save them. He opened a rift, plunging them into the Fade itself.

***

They were in the Fade. The motherfucking Fade. Rayvin swore under his breath. This really wasn’t how he had pictured the battle going at all. Still it was better than possibly being scraped from the bottom of the deep abyss.  He didn’t like this one bit. His dislike increased when they encountered an entity who had taken on the form of Divine Justinia. Not even Cassandra could say for certain if it was really her and cautioned them to be wary.

The Divine helped Trevelyan regain his memories, however. Amidst the seemingly endless fights against hordes of demons and fearlings that looked like spiders, the truth was revealed. It had not been Andraste sending him from the Fade after the explosion at the Temple of Sacred Ashes, it had been Justinia. The revelation greatly distressed Trevelyan.

The Nightmare demon hounded them every step of the way, preying upon the fears they each held deep inside. When speaking to Cassandra it pointed out that her so-called Herald was a fraud. With Dorian it compared him to his father. As for Varric, it knew just what button to push, reminding the dwarf that his best friend was in danger once again because of him. With Alistair it struck a low blow, needling him about leaving all the important decisions to someone else. The Archdemon, the throne of Ferelden. Alistair rolled his eyes, muttering something about Morrigan.

No one escaped the scrutiny of the demon that controlled this section of the Fade, not even Rayvin. It dug deep, using everything it could against him. “You are nothing but a drunken failure, Hawke. Did you think anything you did ever mattered? You couldn’t save your city, couldn’t protect Anders. How could you expect to strike down a God? Cullen is going to die, just like your family and everyone you’ve ever cared about.”

“You won’t dare fucking touch him, you fucking demon. I’ll kill you first if it’s the last thing I ever do!” Rayvin all but shouted as rage exploded through his chest.

More demons and fearlings surged forth, plunging them into another battle. Rayvin fought as hard as he could, ripping the foul creatures to bits. He’d had enough of being here. He wanted out. He wanted nothing more than to see Cullen’s face again.

Varric and Cassandra dropped back, flanking him. Both held inquisitive expressions on their faces. Cassandra’s looked rather dreamy while Varric looked like he was plotting his next story.

He nudged Rayvin’s arm while wiggling his eyebrows. “You still owe me details about you and Curly. I can’t imagine what the two of you have in common.”

Rayvin flicked a lopsided grin at Varric as he glanced down and winked, “That’s private, dwarf.”

After hearing Hawke’s response to Varric’s question, Cassandra rested a hand against the pauldron of Rayvin’s armor. “I am very happy for the both of you,” she smiled. “I would not have pictured Cullen choosing you, but if you make him happy, that can only be a good thing. I have noticed a few subtle changes in him as of late and I can only attribute it to your relationship.”

Rayvin couldn’t help but return the smile. “I’ve known him for a long time, but I would have never thought this was possible. I wasn’t expecting to find anything here.”

Varric, who had been observing closely, added his two copper’s worth and then some. He fixed an look upon Hawke, “I see how it is. I ask a simple question and you more or less tell me to mind my own business. Cassandra bats her eyelashes at you and you answer her with a smile.”

“What can I say, Varric?” Rayvin chuckled. “She’s easier on the eyes.”

“Maybe I should tell Curly you said that. See how he feels about it.” Varric offered, his honey brown eyes twinkling mischievously.

Rayvin grinned, “Be my guest, Varric. Do you really think he doesn’t already know? He’s aware that Cassandra has kneed me in the balls for flirting with her too inappropriately.”

“Andraste’s ass, Hawke! Way to suck the fun out of the moment. Maybe you and Curly were meant for each other.” Varric threw his arms up in the air and marched up ahead, leaving Rayvin behind with Cassandra.

Rayvin chuckled lowly. It wasn’t often he truly flustered the dwarf. Usually they could match each other snark for snark, but not today it seemed. Maybe something was bothering the dwarf. Maybe he needed to talk to him later, once they were out of the Fade. Maker only knew that Rayvin wanted to be anywhere else but here. He’d prefer to be at Cullen’s side.

As they neared the rift they’d be able to escape through, the Nightmare demon and one of its minions, an Aspect of itself, blocked their way. They would have to fight their way through. The spirit of Justinia who had guided them the entire time turned into pure brilliant energy and flew into the Nightmare, causing damage and distracting it long enough for the rest of them to take on its Aspect.

The small team, led by Trevelyan, came together, fighting as one cohesive unit, any minor squabbling that had taken place since they ended up here long forgotten. Rayvin gave all he had to the battle, working in tandem with Alistair and Cassandra, to deal as much damage to it and every damned demon it spawned.

He reveled in the pain coursing through him, using it to enhance his rage. The fucking demon was wrong. The pain he felt served to fuel his desire to kill, fueled the adrenaline pumping through his veins. It did make him stronger. And he’d be damned if it caused him to not keep his promise.

Cullen’s words echoed strong in his mind. He could hear his lover’s voice as clear as day. It cut through all the other voices in his head, drowning them out.

I need you to come back.

Maker willing, he would do just that.

As they brought down the Aspect, Hawke felt a surge of energy enveloping him. He was the one to deal the killing blow, though they had little time to stand around and shout in victory. The rest of the team ran off to the rift, disappearing. Varric was the last one to escape, shooting a worried glance towards Rayvin.

And then, just as the Inquisitor took a few steps to catch up with the rest of the team it happened. The huge spider, also known as the Nightmare, reappeared, standing solidly between them and the rift, which was their only means of escape.

“Alistair, go on! Get to the rift!” Hawke yelled, blinding the Nightmare momentarily with his huge sword as he hacked directly into the front of the beast. “Live a happy life with Rihanna!”

“No! A Grey Warden started this, a Grey Warden-”

Trevelyan interrupted Alistair. “A Grey Warden should be the one to return and help the Order!”

Hawke nodded as he nimbly got out of the way. “Trevelyan, shove him off to the rift. If you don’t I will!”

Trevelyan slashed at one of its legs with his longsword. He turned to Alistair to get him to leave, but Alistair made a move towards the beast, bashing into it with his shield.

“Enough!” Rayvin growled, his anger and rage reaching an all-time high. “You are LEAVING NOW!”

With those words, Rayvin gave Alistair a push and Trevelyan grabbed him, holding him fast.

“You go too, Inquisitor. If you open a rift after I deal with this mother-fucker, I’ll see this through,” Rayvin spat out angrily, still swinging his mighty sword again and again.

“I will, Hawke. I’ll do it for Cullen, for his happiness. I’ll open a rift and get you out myself if you don’t come out.”

“Nice to know you still have a heart,” Rayvin smirked. But Trevelyan was already at the rift, and in mere moments he disappeared with Alistair, closing the rift behind him with a resounding pop that echoed around the Fade, straight into Rayvin’s heart.

As Rayvin focused on the Nightmare, doubt slowly crept into his mind. Between the heavy blows that tore chunks from the creature and long rending slashes that covered him in demon blood, he fueled himself, the blood around him and over him making his Reaver abilities even greater than before. Soon, he had managed to hack off one of the demon’s legs, which had the beast roaring in pain. A quick couple of slashes had one of the other legs literally fly away as Hawke brought his greatsword down. The creature now moaned in pain, something Hawke enjoyed enough to focus entirely on killing it outright. He did know, however, that the creature was a demon, and could never truly be killed. But he would succeed in banishing it if it was the last thing he did.

The other two legs followed in quick succession. The beast now dragged itself backwards and with a mighty blow it disappeared from Hawke’s sight.

He had won. Time to go home.

***

Trevelyan turned to his cheering soldiers as he straightened in the middle of the courtyard, banishing two demons that were fighting them. Cullen rushed to his side immediately to as well as Cassandra. Varric made his way over to where she was standing, a question in his eyes.

The Inquisitor closed the rift with a resounding pop and started to shout at the Wardens. He allied with them, garnering a look of disapproval from Cassandra, who stepped closer, a more urgent thought on the Seeker’s mind.

“Where is Hawke?” Cassandra hissed as Varric echoed the same question in a worried tone.

Cullen stood quietly flanking Inquisitor Trevelyan, his rage barely in control as he visibly shook.

“He chose to stay behind,” Trevelyan said in a calm voice.

“Open a rift and get him out,” Cullen said angrily, his brow furrowed.

“The challenge of fighting that massive demon had him practically slobbering. I told you—”

“Bullshit! You lie!”Cassandra huffed her anger, casting a hardened look at the Inquisitor.

Cullen took two steps. He was now uncomfortably close. “You lie! He would not!” Cullen shouted, his face an angry mask. “You open that rift now or-”

Trevelyan flashed a devious smile at his Commander before walking away, heading for his tent.

Cullen unleashed an angry howl. He knew Hawke wouldn’t sacrifice himself just for the thrill of battle. Not when he had promised he would come back. No, there was more to it than that. His gaze flew to Alistair who was standing nearby with a few of his brethren. “What did he say?”

“He said he’d deal with the Nightmare demon if the Inquisitor reopened a rift once it was done. He told me to live a happy life with Rihanna. I have no doubt that Hawke could defeat that thing. It was monstrous. Bigger than anything I’ve ever faced.”

With a nod of his head, he strode forward, following the path Trevelyan had taken to his tent. He entered without announcing himself, finding Trevelyan in the process of removing his white dragonscale and golden aurum heavy battlemaster armor.

"For the Maker’s sake, Inquisitor, don’t lie to me! Do what you said you’d do. Get him out of the Fade.” Cullen demanded. Never before had he felt so crushed or so angry. Not even the horrors he had endured at Kinloch prepared him for the pain he was feeling now.

Trevelyan continued to strip, until he wore nothing more than a pair of white dragonscale leather breeches. “I will get him out of the Fade, but you must do something for me, Cullen.”

Cullen’s face blanched white and he clenched his jaw so hard he thought his teeth might crack under the exertion. Anxiety and anger swirled in his gut, making him nauseous. “I have to do something for you!?” His amber eyes widening in shock. He crossed his arms in front of his chest. "What is it you want me to do?"

“I think you know the answer to that.” Trevelyan stepped forth, running a hand along Cullen’s strong jaw. The touch caused him to flinch away. “Tsk tsk, don’t be so touchy. You will be mine. I’ll get Hawke out, but I’ll require you to end whatever is going on between the two of you. It also goes without saying that he will no longer be welcome at Skyhold. You will come to my bed for as long as I wish it. Starting now.”

Cullen’s mouth gaped opened, his head and heart a tangle of emotions. Rage, sorrow, disbelief… threatening to overwhelm him. He couldn’t… wouldn’t… but if he didn’t he was damning Hawke to being left behind in the Fade. Maker, guide me. Give me strength.

“Come now, Cullen. I’m not as bad as you might think I am. I’ll be good to you. Let me prove it.” Trevelyan purred as he opened his breeches. “On your knees.”

“Maker’s breath, you’re delusional.”

Cullen’s rage intensified. He knew then he and Hawke had underestimated the lengths Trevelyan would go to get what he wanted. There had to be another way. He simply wasn’t about to give Rayvin up as gone. He couldn’t lose him, not now. Not like this.

Turning, he stormed out of the tent and ran straight into Cassandra who had been outside the entire time.

“I heard what he said,” Cassandra murmured. “I’ll try to convince him otherwise.”

“It’s no use, Cassandra. I doubt Trevelyan will change his mind.” Cullen breathed out. “I can’t. I’ll never see Rayvin again.”

And with those words, Cullen walked away into his own tent, where he could be alone.

***

A few hours later when tempers were no longer threatening to explode, Cullen returned to the Inquisitor’s tent along with Cassandra. Trevelyan’s tent flap was closed, but a lantern burned within. The soldier assigned to stand guard acknowledged that the Inquisitor had not left.

As Cullen entered, he noticed Trevelyan was standing at a table, pouring over a few reports. He halted on the other side of it, his voice uneven as he spoke, “May I speak to you, Inquisitor?”

Trevelyan’s gaze flicked up. “Have you come to reconsider my proposal? If so, Cassandra really isn’t needed.” His eyes were cold, his expression hard.

Cullen gritted his teeth, a headache pounding behind his eyes. “Maker’s Breath! I have not. I find it despicable that you would even propose such a thing. You have damned a man to the Fade in an attempt to get what you want. Of all the pathetic, despicable acts. You are the Inquisitor. You are someone we are supposed to be able to trust. You are not supposed to be swayed by petty jealousy.”

Trevelyan pursed his lips and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Next you’ll be calling me mad, just like Knight-Commander Meredith. Look, even if I did open up a rift to get him out, I wouldn’t even know where to begin to search for him. He was battling the Nightmare demon. Closing the rift as I did was supposed to banish the creature to the furthest reaches of the Fade. Even if Hawke managed to defeat it, he would have been sent only Maker’s knows where as well with it. That is if he survived.”

“He lives! I know it!” Cullen insisted, his eyes flashing.

Cassandra then spoke up, “I am sure Solas would aid you, Inquisitor. We can do this. We have never left our people behind if there was a way to save them.”

Trevelyan braced his palms against the table, “Our people? If it were anyone else, I would be leaping to rescue them.” He scoffed, a sneer on his lips. “But Rayvin Hawke is a bloody menace and the world will breathe a sigh of relief to be rid of him.”

Cullen growled as anger roiled in his gut, “And just who are you that you get to decide that? You stand here, calling him names after you had the gall to make the proposition you made earlier. Credit where its due, Inquisitor.”

“He broke my nose before he humiliated me in front of the entire Inquisition. Have you forgotten that?” Trevelyan shouted back.

“According the men I spoke to, he had already left the ring. Then you came along and challenged him.” Cullen balled his fists, keeping them close to his side. He swore he wouldn’t strike him, no matter how much he wanted to. “Did you think he’d back down? He’s a Champion, for the Maker’s sake.”

“He’s a petty thug wearing a pretty title.” A sneer twisted his lips. “I’ve heard enough! I made you a damn good offer. I would have gotten him out and I would have been good to you, but I see now you prefer to be fucked by a maniac hell-bent on seeing the world go up in flames. So be it.”

Cassandra gasped aloud as an incensed look crossed Cullen’s face, coloring it a deep red. He stared the Inquisitor down, his golden eyes met Trevelyan’s pale blue ones. That was it. He would say what he had come to say. There would be no turning back.

“Maker’s Breath! The only maniac I see is you. I had hoped you would change your mind, but I see now that I have wasting my breath. It’s plain to see that you leave me no other choice.” Cullen’s voice was hard, bereft of all emotion, despite the fact that his heart had broken into tiny pieces, never to be whole again.

Two pairs of eyes watched him intently. Cassandra tilted her head curiously at Cullen.

“Effective immediately, I resign my commission as the Commander of the Inquisition’s forces. I will not work for someone who treats people so callously.”

A loud gasp shot from Cassandra's throat as Cullen turned on his heel and marched out of the tent, not looking back even as the Seeker cried out his name.

***

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven: Fallout

 

“CULLEN!” Cassandra cried out, watching him storm out of the Inquisitor’s tent. His announcement felt like a kick to the gut. Her mouth gaped open as wide as her eyes, frantically turning her head from Cullen’s retreating form to Trevelyan who stood there, legs akimbo with his arms crossed in front of him. As much as Cassandra wanted to chase after Cullen, she had a few things she needed to say to Trevelyan.

“You aren’t going to stop him. We need him!” Cassandra huffed angrily as she clenched and unclenched her fists.

Cold fury flicked through Trevelyan’s pale eyes. “Why should I? I made him an offer, one that would benefit both of us and he turned it down. He may not have liked it at first, but he would have come around. I would have been very good to him. As for the Inquisition, Rylen has every bit the experience that Cullen does. I’ll promote him to Commander.”

Disapproval set into the Seeker’s eyes as her frown caused deep lines to form on her face. “I didn’t want to admit it before, but I was wrong about you. I have watched you, even exalted you as you straddled the world. I am the one who raised you up. Had I known this was where you would lead us, I would have tried harder to find that so-called maniac you so heartlessly left behind to die. I do not believe this is something the Champion would have done.”

The Seeker then turned on her heel and left the tent. She wanted to speak to Cullen, but there was someone else she needed to confer with first. If anyone could help her discover Hawke’s true fate, it would be Solas. The elf knew more about the Fade than anyone she had ever known. Surely he could help.

***

Just as Cassandra left Trevelyan’s sight, she caught a blur of movement to her right as Cole seemed to materialize from thin air. His eyes were full of pain and condemnation, boring intensely into her. His voice was strong as he spoke. “You don’t care about people.”

“Not caring about one person is not the same as not caring about people as a whole, Cole!” Trevelyan’s voice raised an octave. “I do care about our people, but I have never considered Hawke as one of our people. I am the Inquisitor. I’ll do whatever I want.”

Cole left as swiftly and stealthily as he had appeared, leaving behind a heaving Trevelyan.

***

“Cullen,” Cassandra barged into his command tent. She stopped short at the sight of the flipped over table and Cullen sitting among the reports scattered on the floor. In his hands, he clutched a silver flask.

“Leave me be, Cassandra,” he glanced up at her briefly.

“I spoke to Solas. He’s preparing to Fade walk through dreams. If Hawke is still there, in whatever form, we’ll find a way to get him out. Cole also wants to help.” She explained as she knelt down in front of him.

“How? Without an open rift, there is no way. None that I know of.” Cullen shook his head as the pain in his chest increased. It wasn’t a physical pain, but it hurt worse than any wound he had ever had.

Cassandra rubbed her palms together and tried to choose her words carefully. She didn’t want to get Cullen’s hopes up, only for the plan to fail. “There are lingering rifts in the Fortress. Solas believes if Hawke can be found, he can be led to the rift. We do not know if it will work, however.”

Cullen pushed himself up from the floor, straightening to his feet. “It’s enough that he would try.”

“I would not have imagined you and Hawke together, my friend,” Cassandra commented, a glint in her eyes. “He spoke of you while we were in the Fade. I do not know what he would do about the Inquisitor’s indecent proposal—”

“I do. You saw Hawke’s reaction to Trevelyan touching his sword after their sparring match. He threatened to kill him. He would most certainly follow through with the threat if he ever found out about this. I cannot say that I’d stop him.” Cullen swallowed the lump in his throat.

Cassandra pursed her lips, “You are undoubtedly right. I know you are angry at the Inquisitor. I am as well, but I would ask you to stay for the men, our soldiers. They have put their trust in you, Cullen.”

Cullen closed his eyes, bowing his head. He knew Cassandra’s request was sincere, but it hurt too much. The wound was still raw. “I appreciate that you are the one asking, but I need some time. Find me once Solas is finished with his Fade walk.”

“You will be the first to know.” Cassandra promised as she embraced him in a hug. At first he stiffened, unused to that kind of affection from her, but after a few moments, he wrapped his arms around her, returning the friendly embrace. It made him feel better that she cared this much.

“Thank you, Cassandra.”

She flashed a small smile, one that quite didn’t reach her eyes before she headed out of his tent. Cullen watched her until she was out of sight. He glanced down at the mess at his feet. If he was staying on, he should clean this up. After setting the table back up on its legs, he set the flask he had been clutching in his hand upon it, staring at it for a few long moments.

It belonged to Rayvin. He found it on the floor when he came back from talking to Trevelyan. Though he wasn’t sure how it had gotten there, he knew the last place he remembered seeing it was when he had taken it from Hawke and threw it into one of his desk drawers back at Skyhold. Had Rayvin grabbed it and brought it with him? Had he dropped it when he was here in the tent before the battle?

Cullen unscrewed the silver cap and held the flask to his lips, taking a sip of the contents. He coughed, sputtering as it slid down his throat, setting his throat on fire. “Maker’s Breath!” he exclaimed, wondering how Rayvin could possibly drink something so potent. Quickly he replaced the cap, placing the flask in his pack. He’d save it. Yes, if Rayvin could be found, he was certain he would want it back. Until then it would be safe in Cullen’s care.

He knew if he’d stayed here in this tent, he’d do nothing but pace and fret. He needed to speak to Rylen. He also wanted to speak to Varric. Cullen could only imagine what the dwarf might be feeling right now, considering his own shock and subsequent outburst. Varric and Hawke were best friends. It was rare to see one without the other while they were in Kirkwall.

Cullen found the dwarf sitting outside of a tent all by himself. His head was bowed, his shoulders hunched. He held in his hand some parchment. Cullen softly cleared his throat. Varric glanced up, sorrow brimming in his amber eyes. “Did Hawke ever mention the time he was on a Merchant Guild hit list?”

Cullen arched a golden brow as he pulled up a seat beside Varric, “Why would he mention that?”

“How would I know what you and Hawke might have to talk about?” Varric rolled his eyes. Not even for the sake of a story did he want to know what Hawke and Curly might have had to talk about. He couldn’t even begin to imagine, and Varric had a very prolific imagination, what the two had in common. Especially since Hawke was less than forthcoming when he had questioned him about it.

“We had plenty of things to talk about.” Cullen’s jaw clenched as he quickly thought about the time he had spent with Rayvin. There had been talking, but more often than not, that time was spent with Rayvin’s tongue down his throat. Heat crept up into his cheeks, turning them a nice shade of red. As Varric chuckled, Cullen let out a curse. “Maker’s Breath! You were telling a story.”

“Hawke’s uncle, Gamlen, got into an investment scheme with a couple of merchant caste businessmen. They took a lot of people’s coin in order to arrange the import of Wandering Hills from the Anderfels. A delicacy, I’m told. Their foreign foodstuffs arrived… alive and one of them, true to its name, wandered off in the middle of the night.” Varric paused, rubbing his eyes. He never thought losing Hawke would hurt this bad. He muttered under his breath. “Shit…”

Cullen reached out, resting his hand on Varric’s shoulder. He felt the pain of Rayvin’s loss just as sharply as Varric did.

“The guild traced the shipments to Gamlen, but as usual, he was so far in debt he couldn’t see daylight. So they went after Hawke instead.” A grin crossed Varric’s face as he recalled the outcome of this particular story. “They sent guys from the local Carta to Hawke’s estate one night. Five big dusters, armed to the teeth. They kicked in the door and Hawke’s just standing there, fully armed, with me and Aveline on either side. Nobody even said a word. The poor sods just looked at Hawke, looked at Aveline, and dropped their weapons. They never came back.”

A bark of laughter slipped from Cullen’s lips. He could more than imagine that being Rayvin’s response. Varric chuckled, his eyes shining. “Hawke just… had that effect on people.”

Cullen nodded his head. “That he did.”

“I always wanted to tell that one. I guess I’ve got some letters to write.” Varric sighed, knowing the only one he’d be informing was Gamlen.

“He told me about his mother's death, the real story. He said he didn't have any family left.”

“Just Gamlen, but they aren't on speaking terms anymore. Gamlen's daughter, Charade, was a different story.” Varric replied. He knew that Hawke and Charade had grown close since he had discovered who she was. “I also have to write one to Aveline. Andraste’s ass, I wouldn’t want to be in the barracks when she gets the letter.”

“Do you suppose Alistair will inform Rayvin’s cousin, Rihanna?” Cullen ventured.

Varric arched a brow at Cullen’s use of Hawke’s given name. Blondie scarcely called Hawke by that name even though they were together for years. “I’d take odds on that. Alistair stopped by earlier. He said Hawke shoved him towards the rift.” Alistair had had more to say, but Varric didn’t have the heart to tell Curly all of it.

“I suppose he would,” Cullen sighed. “It was good to talk to a friend. I’d like to hear more stories sometime.”

He pushed himself to his feet, clapping Varric on the shoulder. It hurt losing Rayvin especially like this. He didn’t think anything could mend his broken heart, but being in the company of Hawke’s best friend dulled some of the pain.

***

The big fucking spider demon was gone as well as the way out. The fucker had closed it. He hadn’t come back either. He was covered in the Nightmare’s foul rancid smelling blood and his head was swimming from the loss of his own. This time, however, there was no Anders to heal him. There was no one. It was just him, alone in the Fade surrounded by more demons. What a fucking lovely way to die.

Rayvin closed his eyes for a moment, fighting the urge to vomit as he felt something tug at his very being. When he reopened them he noticed the entire landscape stretching out before him had changed. It was still the same wet, gritty watery planescape they had traversed to reach the rift they could escape through, but this looked different somehow. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, though.

The Black City floated in midair far above him while the remains of small village stretched out before him. His brow furrowed as he recognized it. It was Lothering, the way it had been before the Blight destroyed it. He hastened through the village, gaping at people he knew must’ve perished when the horde attacked the town. He called them by name, but they did not respond. They did not see him at all.

He ran from the village, sprinting towards the Hawke homestead. The small farm looked exactly like he remembered. Leandra hung the wash on the clothesline while humming a tune. Bethany was in the yard feeding the chickens. Carver and Malcolm were in the barn tending to the other livestock. A younger version of himself was to the rear of the house, chopping wood.

Sorrow tore through him. They were all gone. His father, a brilliant healer, consumed by the wasting, a disease resistant to magic. Carver, his bullheaded brother, hated being in Rayvin’s shadow. Bethany, his beautiful sister, longed to be normal. His mother gave up everything to be with Malcolm Hawke. Her death he would never forgive, never forget.

“WHY I AM HERE?” He shouted.

The familial scene faded before his eyes. His jaw clenched. Something here was fucking with his head. It wasn’t talking to him yet, unlike the Nightmare that seemed to like the sound of its own voice. Before him was a shimmering blue mirror. He recognized what it was immediately.

It was an eluvian.

They had seen many while they traveled towards the open rift, but those were all dark, unusable. This one, however, was active. He recalled what Merrill had said about them and most recently the elf at Skyhold claimed they were used for transportation. Hopefully it would transport him out of the Fade.

He would take that chance. He had injuries from the fight with the Nightmare that needed tended to and he desperately wanted to see Cullen.

With his lover’s name on his lips, he stepped through.

***

The Veil was very thin at Adamant. Spirits and demons still stalked the halls of the once mighty bastion. From within the guarded tent outside the fortress walls, a lone elf prepared himself to walk the Fade. He had not been a part of the team to experience it in the flesh, though he fervently wished he had been there. Perhaps if he had been with Trevelyan, he would have been able to convince him not to leave anyone behind. That the Nightmare demon could not be killed. It predated love, pride, compassion, save perhaps desire. It was something to be wary of.

Solas stilled his mind and drifted off to sleep, allowing his consciousness to manifest in the world of dreams. This part of the Fade was someplace he normally would not have chosen to explore. His mission was to discover what had become of the Champion, however. Stirrings of energy resonated throughout this place. The demon that had called this section home was absent for the moment.

He wandered forth, encountering little in the way of resistance. Spirits meandered around him, ignoring his presence. It didn’t take long to find the places Cassandra had described. He could see the echoes of their passing imprinted like footprints in the sand and followed them, winding his way through the corridors.

When he came to the spot where the Inquisitor and his team had battled the fear demon, an Aspect of the Nightmare, he watched as it played out before him. Energy swirled and resonated all around him as hosts of spirits, taking the forms of the heroes, reenacted the battle before his very eyes.

As the first battle ended, another began between the Champion and the Nightmare. This one seemed to never-ending but before a dozen beats of his heart he watched the Nightmare disappear before his very eyes. The Champion staggered about then ran towards something in the distance. What it was Solas could not tell. A shout ripped from Hawke’s lips before he faded from Solas’ view.

And that is when he saw it. Glimmering in the distance. No matter how hard Solas tried to reach it, the eluvian remained far out of his grasp. Yet he couldn’t say for certain Hawke had gone through it.

What he did know for certain was that there was no sign of Rayvin Hawke in the Fade. Living or dead.

***

Aedan Trevelyan was not a man given to many regrets. He simply didn’t care what other people thought of him. He did what he pleased and to the Void with anyone else who disagreed with him or got in his way. What did one life matter to him? Leaving Rayvin Hawke behind was no big loss. Not for him, at least.

In the heat of the moment, he felt empowered by his decision. He felt justified by his refusal. Why did it taste like ashes now?

The mark on his hand crackled and sparked. He winced in pain. He gritted his teeth, staring down at his glowing hand. The ache it caused coursed through his body. Trevelyan paced back and forth, shaking his hand. Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop became the mantra he chanted over and over in his head.

But with the pain came a buzz ringing in his head. It wouldn’t stop. Fire licked through his veins. He cried out and threw open the flap to his tent, sprinting blindly until he reached the battered fortress gates.

It was here the pain lessened. The mark sparked. He held his hand aloft, calling forth the anchor to open a rift. The Veil opened and the pain, the buzzing ceased. Plunging forth, he knew what he had to do.

***

There had been no word yet whether Solas’ fade walk had garnered any results. Cullen tried not to think about the possibility that Rayvin was truly lost to him as he closed his golden eyes. He knew he never should have let Rayvin out of his sight, but that wouldn’t have gone over very well at all. Hawke was happiest when he was in the thick of things.

Cullen had always considered himself a romantic, whereas Rayvin was more physical, delighting in pushing boundaries. Had it not been for Hawke’s drunken flirting, Cullen never would admitted there was an attraction. Never had it crossed his mind that he wanted to be with a man, but Rayvin Hawke had effortlessly proved him wrong. He didn’t want a man. He wanted Rayvin and Rayvin had the most incredible way of proving to Cullen he couldn’t live without him.

Cullen grabbed a chair, forcing himself to sit. If he kept pacing, he’d wear a rut in the sand beneath his feet. He pulled a leg up to his chest, wrapping an arm around his knee as he rested his head upon it. Grief still held his heart in its cold grasp, although he tried to sway his thoughts to more pleasant memories.

One in particular stood out in his mind, distracting him for the moment.

Rayvin dragged a less than amused Cullen into a side room and closed the door. Yes, he had gotten drunk. Yes, he had a caused a scene. Yes, he had thrown wine into the Dowager’s ugly green face mask. Yes, he had insulted Duke Cyril de Montfort. It wasn’t like he hadn’t done it before. At least this time no one had died.

“Please don’t be mad at me,” Rayvin pleaded, his voice turning into a whine as he pushed Cullen towards a rather ornate bench.

Cullen tried to resist, but the Champion’s strength proved greater than his own. He let out an ‘oof’ as his calves hit the bench, causing him to lose his balance. He sprawled out on the bench, his hands resting upon the cushions, bracing himself upright.

Despite Rayvin’s state of inebriation and Cullen’s protests, he nimbly had the jacket of Cullen’s finery open and had started on the Commander’s pants. With a growl, Rayvin mashed their lips together, silencing him as he pulled Cullen’s trousers and smallclothes down past his knees. After a moment, he relented, easing the kiss.

Rayvin backed away, perusing the gorgeous man sprawled out before him. Cullen was a glorious sight.

“Need you,” Rayvin whispered before joining their mouths again. This kiss was different from the last. This kiss was a simple meeting of lips, both pairs slightly open so their breath mingled. Rayvin’s lips brushed Cullen’s once, twice, again and again, each soft touch a lure until Cullen was unconsciously matching Rayvin’s rhythm and bobbing his chin slightly to keep up. Once he had him, Rayvin slid his fingers deep into Cullen’s hair as he deepened the kiss.

In the moment when he would have melted under the onslaught of Rayvin’s tongue, sense chose to reassert itself and he pushed at Rayvin’s shoulders.

“We can’t do this here!” Cullen stared into Rayvin’s intense blue eyes, breathing hard. “We’ll be caught.”

Rayvin backed away ever so slightly, a devious grin lingering on his moistened, kiss-swollen lips. “That’s what makes it so thrilling!” Rayvin rocked his hips against Cullen’s, causing the blond to bite his lips over a moan.

“Maker’s Breath!”

Rayvin nibbled softly at the curve of Cullen’s jaw, his breath caressing the blond’s neck just below his ear. “Watching you all night has been driving me crazy. I can’t take it anymore. I need you now.”

One of Rayvin’s hands slid down Cullen’s chest, exploring his hot flesh. Rayvin’s lips reclaimed Cullen’s again as that hand slid over bare skin. Cullen gave up the fight entirely and wrapped his arms around Rayvin’s neck, sucking in the tongue that pushed into his mouth. It was Rayvin’s turn to moan. When Rayvin rocked his hips against Cullen’s again, Cullen met the move.

Rayvin broke from the kiss with a sharp inhalation. Cullen panted, eyes closed and bearings shot. Rayvin shifted lower. Cullen gasped when Rayvin’s tongue teased his taut nipple. Rayvin scraped his nails lightly down Cullen’s torso, making the blonde quiver; then he followed the movement at a more leisurely pace with his lips and tongue. Cullen’s legs moved at Rayvin’s command, adjusting so that when the blonde finally backed away far enough, he ended up kneeling between Cullen’s thighs.

Golden eyes met blue over the length of Cullen’s bare torso. Rayvin hummed his appreciation, dragging his tongue up the crease between thigh and groin before he looked up at Cullen’s face. Rayvin let out a purr of appreciation at the stiff sight before his eyes.

“Maker,” Rayvin sighed, letting Cullen hear his admiration as Rayvin wound his fingers around the thick width and drew them up to the firm ridge of the large flared bulbous head. He squeezed the swell in the shaft just under the head and watched clear liquid seep from the little eye at the tip that was looking at Rayvin. Leaning in, he kissed that eye, swiping his tongue over its salty tear.

A groan dragged out of Cullen’s chest, and the hip beneath his other hand shook. “Maker’s breath, Rayvin.”

Rayvin loved the sound of his name of Cullen’s lips, whispered in that oh so sexy husky voice. It spurred him on, wanting to hear more of it. Rayvin closed his lips over the head and laved the smooth skin, sliding his fist slowly up and down Cullen’s shaft. He kept up with that sensuous moaning, rocking his hips upwards as his hands tangled in Rayvin’s hair.

Rayvin pumped and sucked. He nipped and licked. And Cullen responded by stroking and pulling Rayvin’s long hair as sexy, crooning noises fell from his lips. Changing his method, Rayvin dragged the flat of his tongue up Cullen’s cock from base to tip. Cullen cried out, instinctively arching off the bench. Rayvin chuckled, grabbing hold of his hips to press them back down before he repeated the lick. Cullen couldn’t remember a time when he had ever felt anything more heavenly. Long before Rayvin suckled the tip back  into his mouth, Cullen’s eyes closed and his brain scattered into a million pieces.

“Maker, Rayvin, more,” he begged, forgetting where they were and any possibility of being caught.

Rayvin growled softly, fingers clutching Cullen’s hips. Because Cullen’s cock was shoved deep in Rayvin’s throat at the time, the rumbling made him cry his lover’s name again. Suction. Pure, raw, head-bobbing suction in a relentless, unending rhythm. Wonderful. Horrible. “Maker, Rayvin, I’m ... I can’t hold ...”

His cock popped briefly out of Rayvin’s wet mouth to allow him to snap, “Come for me.” Then it was back. The sucking. The pure heaven. The maddening push until Cullen could no longer control it. His balls drew up, his hips fought Rayvin’s hold, and with one agonized bellow, he came in Rayvin’s suckling, swallowing mouth.

“Ah!” he cried, thrusting unconsciously. His cock swelled in Rayvin’s fist. Then a wave of hot saltiness squirted into his mouth. Rayvin greedily devoured every bit, lapping at the taste of salt and earthy male.

Rayvin looked up and grinned at Cullen, who stared back with a dumbfounded expression, panting, unable to believe what had just happened. He felt Rayvin kissing his way up his belly, his chest, his neck, until finally Rayvin appeared above him, grinning. “What’s wrong, Cullen? Tell me you didn’t enjoy that?”

“Maker’s breath!” he cried, breathless. His face and neck were all flushed, his eyes shining. “Of course, I did, but that still doesn’t change the fact we could get caught.”

“We haven’t yet. You worry far too much.”

Cullen came back from his memories with a snap of his head. He had heard a noise in his tent, yet when he opened his eyes, there was nothing there. He sighed as he thought of Rayvin, lost in the Fade, wandering, searching for a way out. Because he knew that Rayvin was not dead. He knew that somehow he would feel it if he was.

He was very much aroused. Something that was not proper, given the circumstances. Suddenly the face of his lover appeared before him. Carefree, laughing and smirking, shrugging, eyes playful - and the pain in his heart suddenly grew unbearable.

Cole suddenly materialized before him, scaring him to death.

“Maker’s breath, Cole!” Cullen’s voice had an edge of sadness in him. The boy looked into his very eyes, pale blue holding golden.

“Searching, seeking. Some are trying to save him. But he has opened the window and is gone.”

Cullen’s heart sank. Cole was clearly talking about Hawke. What did he mean by ‘gone’?


“You don’t have to worry. I can make you forget,” Cole whispered.

Cullen sighed, his very soul smothered by sadness. “I don’t want to, Cole. I don’t want to forget.”  

***

Though Trevelyan had searched as far and as wide as he could, there was no sign of Rayvin Hawke nor had he found Hawke’s body in the place he had abandoned him. The only thing he had found were blood smears on the frame of an eluvian, but there was no telling if it had been left by him or if he had even come this way. Time would tell, if perhaps at some point he showed up out of the blue. Trevelyan really didn’t relish that happening, for he knew there would be hell to pay once Hawke found out about the proposal he had laid upon Cullen.

Trevelyan returned to the fortress through another rift, heading straight for Cullen’s tent. It didn’t surprise him in the least to find the Commander surrounded by their friends. As he stopped at the tent’s opening, he saw Solas, Cole, Varric, Cassandra and Alistair. He slowly walked in, stopping in his tracks as the conversation they were having came to a halt and all eyes turned towards him.

He exhaled a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding. “I searched, but there was no trace of him. I found nothing. Not his body or any sign of where the Champion may have gone.”

“I also found no trace of him, Inquisitor.” Solas spoke up. His voice was calm, even, but Trevelyan caught a hint of disapproval in his inflection. “It would seem the Champion is lost to us after all.” A gasp hitched in his throat. “Is that not what you wanted?”

“YES! DAMN IT!” Trevelyan cried out as he sank to his knees, feeling the full weight of their collective gazes. “But I was wrong.”

While everyone of them looked like they had something to say, it was Varric that spoke first. “I’ve spent last hours blaming myself for bringing Hawke here, but I see I needn’t have bothered. Even I know he wouldn’t have stayed away from anything that involved Corypheus. But that’s not the point I want to make. We should really talk about your methods, Trevelyan. The way you run the Inquisition, you get results. I can’t argue with that, but you leave a lot of innocent people ground in the dirt behind you.”

“Oh please, Varric, Hawke is not an innocent person ,” he snapped.

Varric glared, his point proven. “The world has enough problems. It doesn’t need another monster. Try not to become one.”

Eerie, uncomfortable silence followed Varric’s words. Trevelyan then watched Varric leave the tent, his heart pounding in his chest.

“I have come here to apologize to you, Commander,” Trevelyan finally spoke, his voice foreign to his own ears. “I let personal wants get in the way of what is best for the Inquisition. I let envy, jealousy and greed sway me. I have wronged you and I know I can never make up for that. I would ask that you stay on as Commander of the Inquisition’s forces. Without you, the army will fall to pieces. It doesn’t matter that Rylen is good as a commanding officer. The army follows you. We need you to finish Corypheus.”

Solas moved from where he was standing, shaking his head. He filed out of Cullen’s tent, his heart heavy. If the Inquisitor was this way, what hope could there be for humanity? His brow creased, his steps slow. Remembering the words he had shared with Cullen, a sliver of hope suddenly burst forth like a stubborn streak of light. Cullen’s hope. Cullen’s soft words. Cullen’s bravery and dedication. Cullen’s fairness in everything he did as a commanding officer. Cullen’s respect for him, a mage and an apostate at that.

Solas smiled and headed to his tent to meditate.

Back in the tent, Cassandra and Alistair remained. Alistair’s eyes narrowed slightly as he looked at Trevelyan. He stood, not wishing to be there, not trusting himself to remain because his desire to hit the Inquisitor was fast getting the better of him.

“Rihanna isn’t going to like this,” he muttered as he slipped by Trevelyan, his amber eyes stormy and worried at the same time.

Cassandra was the only one left in the tent now. She didn’t stand up and it looked like she wouldn’t be leaving like the rest. Cullen sighed from his seat and Cassandra looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He was staring up at Trevelyan with an unfocused gaze, as if he didn’t believe what he was saying. She turned to face him now, all subtlety aside, her eyes pleading.

Cullen sighed as he caught Cassandra’s movement on his right. He didn’t steal a look at her because he knew exactly what that look would be. The Seeker had, in fact, asked him repeatedly to remain in the Inquisition and Cullen knew without the shadow of a doubt that that would be exactly what he would be doing.  

He sighed deeply and nodded once, hoping to give weight to the words he was about to say.

“I realize this Inquisitor. Even though I may not want to, I realize this is what must be done. I will continue my duties as Commander of your armies. I do, however have something to say.”

Trevelyan inclined his head, briefly nodding at the Commander and inwardly steeling himself for what he was about to say. He knew it wouldn’t be good or pleasant.

“I will never, for as long as I draw breath, forgive you for what you have done. The person that I had hoped to spend the rest of my life with is now gone because you thought could force me into some perverted relationship in exchange for his life. I will help you reach Corypheus. After that, I do not know, but I have the feeling I will no longer answer to you. You are an unfeeling person, not worthy of anyone’s true affection. Selfish and disrespectful and full of malice as well. The Inquisition deserves better than you as its leader.”

Trevelyan was forced to look away from Cullen’s amber eyes that were flashing angrily at him. He knew there would be no hope of salvaging any form of relationship between himself and the Commander. No longer friends as they once had been. Before he could reply however, Cassandra spoke. Maybe it was to relieve the tension in the room, maybe it was to give Cullen a brief respite, but for whatever reason Cassandra’s words were nothing they expected to hear coming from her lips and surprised them both into a state of speechlessness.

“Hawke never did autograph my copy of the Tale of the Champion…”

***

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve: The New World

Thick grey mist spread out before Rayvin, narrowing his field of vision to a few feet directly before him. He stumbled through it, his hands held up in front of his body, feeling for anything. He wasn’t for certain where he was or if he was still in the Fade. Wherever he was, it was no better than the Fade had been. He wanted out of here. He had a bone to pick with the Inquisitor when he did find a way out. That much he was certain about and nothing nor nobody, not even Cullen, would keep him from doing just that.

Rayvin staggered forth in the acrid mist, coughing and heaving. It made breathing difficult, almost like it had filled his lungs with cobwebs. Something caught on the metal plates that covered his boots. He shook it off, hearing a loud crunching sound as his foot connected with the ground beneath him. He wasn’t sure what he had stepped on and didn’t want to know either. Wherever or whatever this place was, it didn’t seem very pleasant. The sooner he found a way out, the better.

As he continued on, the crunching noises beneath his feet grew louder, more frequent. This mist thickened even more, turning from a smoky grey to near pitch black. He stumbled, falling to his hands and knees. He crawled forward several feet, feeling whatever had littered the ground beneath him roll. Grabbing a handful, he held it close to his face and gasped as he realized what it was.

Bones and various fragments of bone littered the ground. His stomach lurched and Rayvin scrambled to his feet.

Blood and bones was nothing new to him. It was all part of battle. Part of being a warrior. But the bone strewn ground gave him no clue as to why he was here.

“What the hell is going on? Where am I?” Rayvin cried out, angrily.

The mist cleared. A sea of bones, whole and splintered, stretched out all around him as far as the eye could see. His jaw clenched. This place… wherever this was… was unnerving. Rayvin closed his eyes for a brief second. When he reopened them, the first thing he noticed was the landscape before him had changed.

His jaw dropped. There were still bones at his feet, but a battlefield now spread out in front of him. Towering spires of stone flanked either side of a narrow valley. The corpses of man, woman, mabari, and darkspawn lay at his feet. He knew this place, but why he was here he didn’t understand?

The Battle of Ostagar had happened over a decade ago. Why was he seeing it here? Why now?

Rayvin picked his way across the battlefield, his pace quick as he searched for the way out. Near a stone column, something glittered. He ran toward it then stopped short when he realized what it was. The golden armor worn by King Cailan. A cry tore from Rayvin’s lips when realized the King was still in the armor. He backed away, eyes wide from the shock.

Noises from behind filtered to his ears, becoming louder and louder. Rampant uneasiness gripped him. He turned, watching as some of the corpses that had been laying on the ground were now standing on their feet. It wasn’t that had hadn’t ever dealt with undead. Their existence had been all too common in Kirkwall.

He drew the sword from his back as several shambled toward him. He dashed across the valley, making his way to the path the King’s army had traversed to the valley floor. When the shamblers caught up to him, he swung at them, bringing them down with a whirlwind maneuver. He knew he was still in the Fade, the very sky looked Fade-like in appearance. But instead of a breach, he only saw a whirlwind of black above him. And a darker hole in the middle, if possible.

He walked on. Fighting the walking skeletons when he needed to, but then he saw a flash of a light in the distance and walked towards it with renewed energy. The flash led him up a small hill. At the very top there was a strange statue, split into sides showing faces. One of the faces, the one directly in front of him, had an open mouth, which resembled a door. This was where the light source came from, for the huge open mouth flashed purple-white again, beckoning him.

He paused for a moment, now very close. Fear gripped at him, but the rebellious side to him shoved it aside. This was the only possible exit from the place he’d just gone through. He chanced an arm - his left one - and stuck it through the purple-white light and it went through easily. Yanking his arm back he saw it was whole and undisturbed. This meant that this light wouldn’t destroy him, so he took the plunge and stepped through the door.

A brief wave of dizziness washed over him as he emerged. A gleaming marble octagonal shaped structure surrounded him with five iridescent panels, all dark save for the one he had come out of it. He staggered forth, clutching the wall for support until he trusted his legs to keep him upright.

Beyond the structure Rayvin peered out of, he could see a cave. There was water and rock. He glanced up. There was a real ceiling made of rock. A cry of joy slipped from his lips. Pulling off his gauntlets, he dropped to the ground and touched the earth below him with his hands.

“Praise the Maker! That nonsense is over and done with,” he spoke out loud, laughing and crying at the same time. He was out of the Fade and he couldn’t be happier.

Rayvin pushed himself to his feet, and though his whole body ached, he was glad to be alive. He glanced around, knowing he’d have to figure out where he was.

A feeling that he was being watched made him whirl around, his greatsword unsheathed and at the ready, aiming directly at the area where he now heard shuffling. A strange-looking elf with white hair stood in front of him, looking at him curiously, his hand gripping the hilt of a sword sheathed at his waist.

The elf not only had snow white hair but his skin was the whitest he’d ever seen on an elf. His eyes gleamed a pale shade of pink, and now they were closely watching him -  a bit of curiosity, fear and aggressiveness in them.

“Who are you? Where am I?” Rayvin asked.

The strange elf replied, but to Rayvin it sounded all like gibberish. At least the man had not drawn his sword, but still stood in front of Hawke, his arms now in front of him in a gesture of goodwill, trying to convey he meant Rayvin no harm.

Rayvin blinked at him repeatedly. He lowered his greatsword slowly and the elf put his hands down, trying to speak again.

Rayvin shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what you’re saying there. Wish I knew your language, but I don’t.”

The elf spoke a few words, a frown appearing on his face, then he sighed.

Rayvin shook his head, feeling dizzy all of the sudden. He quickly turned sideways walking to the steps of the dome-shaped building he had just emerged from. The stranger took some steps until he was standing closer.

“I said, welcome stranger, you stand in the Great Chantry of Auriel.” the elf spoke out. “This is probably a result of your sudden appearance, but in a few moments you’ll be able to understand what I’m saying.”

Rayvin’s head bolted up and caught the elf looking curiously at him.

“I can understand you now,” Hawke breathed a sigh of relief. “But I don’t understand where I am. What’s Auriel? Where am I? Are we in Thedas?”

“I have never heard of a ‘Thedas’,” the elf shook his head. “But what I said about your sudden appearance makes sense to me. The fact you weren’t able to understand me means you clearly must have come from another realm. Once the effect of crossing to this world was gone, you would be able to understand what people are saying. I’m glad this is the case.”

“So, if this isn’t Thedas, then I’m in another world?” Rayvin asked dumbly, realizing all the while that he had really done it this time. “Fuck!”

The elf nodded. “This is Tamriel. Skyrim to be more specific.”

Not only was he in a totally different place, but now Cullen just seemed like an impossible dream to him.  He swallowed thickly. There was no way around it.

He was alone again. And this time it hurt even worse than before.

***

The elf offered Rayvin a place at his fire and a meal, which Rayvin devoured. He was so hungry.

“So, this Thedas you are talking about, where you come from, is it similar? Are there elves in Thedas like me?”

Rayvin gave a bark of a laugh through his food. Swallowing it down with some mead the elf had given him, he cleared his throat.

“It’s similar, yes,” he replied. “But we don’t have elves that look like you. And I don’t think the Dalish like living in underground caves, either.”

“We are a different race from the rest of the elves,” the elf replied with a smile. “We are Snow Elves, and most were wiped out a very long time ago by the human Nords first and then the Dwemer. Now it’s only my brother and I who remain.”

Rayvin raised a brow. Nord? Dwemer? Snow Elves? What was he talking about? He scratched his head. “How have you survived then? With just the two of you remaining? I don’t understand.”

“We retreated here, to this sanctuary. Far from the scrutiny of the human Nords. My race is long lived. You might call us immortal. The rest I call the Betrayed, blind monstrosities who live in dark places and seek to annihilate the surface races. Nords, even our elven brethren. Their hate runs deep.”

“For the love of the Maker,” Rayvin groaned. “What have I stepped in this time?”

The elf rubbed his hands together. He liked this human. He didn’t know if it was because he wasn’t after something he wanted himself - namely the Bow of Auriel. “And you’ve come out of another world, just at the right moment, too. I need some help retrieving something.”  

“Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I am doing nothing that involves quests and seeking relics. I just got here, so nope! Not going there!” Rayvin exclaimed, drawing a laugh from the elf at his words.

“I’m sorry,” the elf said contritely. “I know I can’t ask you. It would be unwise. You should get your bearings and try to focus on this land. But once you have figured it out, could I perhaps interest you in helping me get what I’m seeking?”

“Uh! Persistent, aren’t you?” Rayvin shook his head with a smirk. “Well, once I give my word, it happens. But the world I come from says I’m a walking piece of mayhem, I’ll have you know!”

The elf burst out laughing. “I’ll keep that in mind. Now, let’s just give you an idea of what this world is like. What you should do in it, what you would find in it, is that alright for you?”

“A guided tour? I’m all in!” Rayvin smirked.

“Unfortunately, I cannot leave my place. So this lesson is only a spoken lesson, I’m afraid,” the elf sighed. “I can tell you what I remember of the world you are in, and of some of the animals you would encounter, but not much else.”

Rayvin nodded to this. “I’m all ears, um...what did you say your name was?”

“I’m terribly sorry. I don’t believe I mentioned it at all to you. My name is Knight-Paladin Gelebor and my job is to take care of this sanctuary and keep it free from vermin and monsters. And you are?” the elf asked extending his right hand.

Rayvin smiled. “Call me Hawke. Everyone does.”

They shook hands and all at once it was as if Rayvin had opened something and a flood of words came out. The Snow Elf talked and talked about the wars, about his race, about the Falmer, called The Betrayed, and about the creatures lurking in the cave. When he started to describe Frostbite Spiders, Rayvin stopped him short.

“Huge spiders you say? Roaming the land?” All at once after his words, Hawke burst out laughing. The expression on Gelebor’s face changed to one of complete bewilderment, which only caused Rayvin to laugh even harder. Tears streamed down his cheeks and he held on to his stomach as the laughter finally died down.

“Excuse me, but there is nothing remotely funny about these spiders,” Gelebor said sternly. “They are dangerous, friend.”

Rayvin shook his head. “I’m not laughing because they are or aren’t dangerous. I’m just laughing because I’ve come from a world with giant spiders and the last one I fought was the size of this whole cave,” Hawke chuckled. “The irony of all this made me laugh. I wanted to get away from something I’ll be facing regularly. Ain’t life a bitch?”

***

Rayvin remained with Gelebor for a few days. He completely explored the cave, encountering the creatures the pale elf called The Betrayed, large insect like creatures with hard carapaces that Gelebor identified as chaurus and hairy creatures with three eyes with large teeth and long arms called trolls. And yes, there were spiders. Those awful frostbite spiders… giant spiders that spit freezing venom. It was enough to give him nightmares.

He discovered a few battered chests, one near the trolls and another having been guarded by frostbite spiders. Within he found pouches of coins, a few gems, as well as pieces of battered armor. He left those behind. He knew he would need coin to survive. He hadn’t brought his pack to Adamant. That he had left in Cullen’s quarters at Skyhold. All his clothing, his coin and everything else. He had a few things he always carried with him in a small pack he nestled inside the breastplate of his armor, but those were more sentimental things. His journal that he never went anywhere without, and a pouch of mementos he had collected during his years in Kirkwall. The Tevinter Chantry amulet he had given Anders, Bethany’s red scarf and a few locks of her hair and his mother’s locket were a few of the items he kept.

Once he had bid Gelebor farewell, he headed out through a side path the elf had opened. The semi-dark path twisted and turned as it wound its way to the surface. When he came out he noticed a small campfire smoldering weakly. Bloodstains were everywhere, even on the bedrolls. In a tunnel to the right of him lay the body of a young woman. She was face down, her dress in tatters.

Rayvin frowned as he searched the camp, finding a letter that spoke of living near the trolls. It was apparent it hadn’t turned out well, but the chest in the camp garnered him more coin, a few potion vials, a small satchel and a steel dagger.  

Now to find the way out.

Daylight streamed in through the mouth of the cave. He quickened his pace, heading out of the cave into the sunlight. It was the most beautiful sight he’d seen in days. He stood, staring up at the sun. Its warm rays felt good on his skin. The air around him was crisp and the sky was clear, though as he glanced around he noticed a dusting of snow on the ground that stretched up the rock face.

He wasn’t in the Frostbacks or the Vimmarks, that much he knew, but that didn’t make the mountains before him less breathtaking.  Tall pines flanked the cave he’d exited. Among the scrub grass were lavender blossoms and bushes with large red berries on its branches. He picked a few of the riper ones from the bush, tentatively sniffing before popping one to taste it. An explosion of sweetness filled his mouth, the juice from the berry staining his lips. He quickly ate another one before plucking a few more.

In the distance he could see more mountain peaks. However, the hilly landscape before him was dotted with tall gnarled, twisted trees bereft of any foliage as well as smaller trees bearing small green berries. Scraggly yellow brush covered the ground as well as outcroppings of rock.  He weaved his way through the foliage. Just as he was about to descend a small hill, a roar came from behind him. He reached for his Warblade, pulling it off his back as he whirled about in time to see a large tawny cat leaping at him. With teeth and claws bared, the long-toothed cat attacked.

Rayvin swung the Warblade, stabbing and hacking at the beast. It yowled and snarled, swiping its claws at him furiously. One massive paw latched onto the chain-mail flap covering his groin. He jerked back, delivering a kick to the cat’s muzzle. Drawing his sword back, he held it over his head, thrusting downward with all his strength. The tip of the greatsword entered the cat’s back between its shoulder blades. He forced it further in, listening to the cat’s screams.

When his blade pierced its heart, it collapsed at Rayvin’s feet, finally dead. Rayvin jerked his sword out, taking a few moments to study the beast he had just killed. He had never seen anything quite like this. It was much larger than a house cat with thick golden fur and yellow eyes. He smiled when he realized that people would probably pay good coin for its pelt.

Just as he was bending over to start skinning the beast, a noise behind him made him spin around. This time, two wolves were heading his way. He lost no time unsheathing his blade and had no trouble killing the first one. The second one, however, was swift and he had to be even faster than the animal. Both wolf and human danced around each other for a short while until Hawke realize that there was a pattern to the wolf’s attacks. Smirking, he anticipated the beast’s next move and skewered it with his Warblade.

Taking out the dagger he had found, he quickly skinned the three animals and set the skins to dry while he washed in a stream nearby. Two seconds later, he was yelping out of the way as two crabs attacked. He was beginning to learn that everything attacked in this seemingly calm place. Shaking his head he quickly crushed both crabs to smithereens and gazed over the stream.

The remains of a building caught his eye, the gold inlay on one of the stone pillars glinting off the rays of the sun, which was directly overhead. He deduced that there would be even more gold in the ruined place, so he quickly went back to where his skins lay and built a fire. Soon he was roasting some of the meat from the sabre-toothed cat. He popped a few more berries in his mouth and focused on the meat. As soon as it was done, he tasted it and found it to be simply delicious.

Totally invigorated from his rest and meal, he hung the now dry pelts on his belt and proceeded to cross the river to the ruins he had spotted, taking care to crush the crabs that immediately rushed forward to attack him.

The ruins themselves had a curious-looking golden container, which had nothing inside it. Frowning to himself he searched thoroughly, but realized there was nothing of interest at all. He shrugged as he looked around, spotting a path that led deeper into the area. In the distance he could see smoke curling up from the general direction of this path. This meant there were people there and he smiled to himself as he took the path, not stopping once to consider it might be dangerous.

Rayvin Hawke might be many things, but he was not put off by danger. Not one bit. If anything, he was quite attracted to it.

***

As Rayvin headed up the path, he began to notice the heavy fortifications. Wooden stakes had been lashed together and driven into the ground, forming a barrier while bear traps were placed in strategic intervals. Among the trees he could make out what looked like hide tents, suggesting whoever called this camp home lived off the land.

By the time he made it out close enough to see two of the camp’s inhabitants, they had noticed him. An arrow whizzed by his head, sinking into the trunk of a tree to his left. Quickly he drew his Warblade to defend himself, calling out, “I come in peace.”

The bow wielding warrior moved closer, arrow nocked. Rayvin could see it was a woman beneath the fur and bone armor. He bit back a laugh at the funny looking headdress she wore. Soon a second one of these warriors rushed towards him with two very strange looking bone swords in his hands.

“Death to the Nords! The Reach belongs to the Forsworn!” The male bellowed as he attacked, driving his bone swords towards his armored middle.

Rayvin easily deflected them with a short swing of his greatsword. He wasn’t really concerned about the male in front of him. His strikes were weak and his form was sloppy. It was the woman with the bow at a distance he had to be wary of.  He twirled the grip of his pommel in his hand, spinning the blade around and slammed it into his man’s gut.

The Forsworn gurgled as he went down. Rayvin wasn’t sure if the man was dead or not, but he needed to take care of the archer before he did anything else. Her shots had increased, though most of them veered wide. He ducked and weaved as he sprinted up the path, charging at her with his greatsword out in front of him.

The female backed up, firing again. Rayvin dodged, but wasn’t quite quick enough as he felt the arrow pierce the chain-mail and sink into his thigh. He hissed from the pain and snapped the arrow shaft, tossing it aside as he rushed forth, leaping into the air and bringing the heavy blade down in her hide covered neck. It sliced through her like a hot knife through soft butter, her head rolling to the ground.

Before her body collapsed, Rayvin grabbed a hold of her and the stump of the arrow shaft still in his thigh. He hissed as he tore it out, calling on his Reaver abilities to heal himself. Tossing the arrow aside, he quickly looted the corpses of the Forsworn, finding little in the way of goods he could sell. Each had a few coins and a gem each. He also kept the apples he found in a pouch on the female.

Upon further investigation of the camp led to the discovery of an entrance to a cave. He entered as quietly as he could, making his way down a short path that opened up into a large cavern. He crouched in the shadows to get a sense of what he’d be dealing with before he charged in all half-cocked.

A wooden bridge perched over a small stream. Beyond that was a small garden, with potato plants, leeks and cabbages. Chickens and goats wandered about. A crude drying rack was laden with fish and fowl and rabbits. One of the Forsworn warriors busied himself chopping wood. Another two were wandering about, talking amongst themselves. He also swore he heard a hammer striking an anvil as well.

Rayvin estimated a half dozen of these Forsworn by the number of hide shelters. He’d faced down greater numbers on his own while in Kirkwall and from what he’d seen outside, they weren’t all that tough. He grabbed one of their bone bows from a nearby rack, and nocked an arrow, aiming at the man chopping wood. He wasn’t as skilled with a bow as others he knew, but he’d been known to bring down a deer during a hunt.

He let the arrow fly, cursing as it went wide and struck a barrel near the drying rack. “Argh! How does Varric make this shit look so easy!?!” Rayvin muttered under his breath. “Damn Bianca!”

Then he aimed and fired again as his missed shot alerted the occupants in the area. When his second shot missed, he tossed the bow aside and drew his trusty Warblade, standing at the end of the bridge. He figured they’d have archers, but if he could bottleneck the rest and keep himself from being surrounded he knew he’d have nothing to worry about.

He took down the first two warriors that ran at him with relative ease. There were two archers on rock outcroppings. He knew he’d have to get in close to take them down. Charging up the slight grade, Rayvin swung at the first archer just as she backed away and fired. The arrow whizzed by him, allowing him to swing his sword at her again. The sharpened tip of the blade sank into her bare midriff, slashing it wide open. Her eyes widened as blood exploded not only from the wound but her mouth as well. She fell to her knees, the bow abandoned at her feet. Rayvin swiftly finished her off, driving his blade through her heart.

Then he turned the next archer, ducking an arrow as a lightning bolt came zinging at him.

“Shit!”

They had a mage. This one he’d have to take down quick as a spray of bone-chilling ice came his way, coating his armor. He shivered as he shook it off, hefting the handle of his large blade aloft and launching the sword through the air as one would throw a spear. He knew it would leave him without a weapon until he could retrieve his blade, but if it worked it meant the mage would be dead.

The blade flew straight, sinking into the hole in the mage’s chest where his heart should have been. With a quick glance before the blade had embedded itself, he saw some kind of bulbous root inside the chest cavity.

Strange, indeed, he mused. These people were weird and hostile.

“Definitely weird. I said weird, right?” He commented to no one in particular.

Rayvin zigzagged, avoiding being hit by the arrows she continued to shoot. One bounced off the pauldron of his arm. He figured she must have been aiming for his neck, but it must have been deflected as he brought his arm up. He closed in, jerking the bow from her gasp and snapping it. Then he grabbed her by the throat, pulled her close and deftly snapped her neck.

He took his time searching the cave. He found a good deal of coin, fresh food, a few serviceable weapons not made of bone, and a map. It marked the various camps of the Forsworn in the area. This one they had labeled ‘Druadach Redoubt.’ To the east was another called Bruca’s Leap. It seemed a city was further south as well yet its name or even how far it was away, he had no way of knowing. He rolled the map and stowed it in the knapsack he found along with several pieces of charcoal. With this he could mark where he came to this world and perhaps that knowledge would help him be able to return to his own.

Once he had salvaged everything he could, Rayvin left the cave behind. The sun had sank lower into the sky and the temperature had definitely dropped. He shouldered the pack and his sword, following the path away from the Forsworn camp.

Rayvin walked for a few more hours following the stream, noticing smoke coming from a nearby camp. He hoped it wasn’t more of the Forsworn. He really wasn’t looking forward to another fight. Dusk had fallen and with it came the outline of… two moons in the sky.

Two moons.

That was different.

He drew close to the camp. Close enough to see it consisted of a lone tent and a small campfire. A female in leather armor sat on a rock with a fishing pole. An a-frame rack with fish hanging from it stood to the left of the tent. To the right was some kind of hide stretched upon another sort of frame. A tanning rack, perhaps?

He held his hands in the open as he walked into the camp. “Hello,” he spoke loud and clear. “I mean you no harm. Might I share your fire?”

The female jumped, swearing softly at the sound of his voice. She scrambled off the rock, wedging her pole so it wouldn’t float away if by chance it happened a bite. “By Y’ffre!” Her jade green eyes flashed, “You shouldn’t just sneak up on someone like that.”

Rayvin moved closer, able to peruse her more fully. She had white-blonde hair and dusky brown skin. He could see the points of her ears through the veil of her intricately braided hair. She was elven, reminding him somewhat of Zevran.  

“Begging your pardon. It’s just been awhile since I’ve seen a friendly face. So much seems to attack first.” Rayvin tried to keep a straight face.

“If you mean the Forsworn, you’ve got that right. Be welcome at my fire, sera. What’s a Nord doing out in these parts anyway?” the elf asked as she sat cross legged on one side of the fire.

Rayvin chose a spot on the other side, frowning slightly at being called a Nord. He’d never met a Nord. He didn’t even know what Nords were, except for being human, of course. “I’m not a Nord. I’m not from here. Wherever here is. My name is Hawke.”

“Greetings, Hawke who is not a Nord. I am Amariel.” She smiled and her green eyes twinkled merrily. “You don’t look like a Breton or an Imperial. You definitely aren’t Redguard. Perhaps you’ll have to tell me where you are from.”

He shook his head, hoping he wouldn’t have to explain his story to everyone he met. “I’m from a place called Thedas, and no, you’ve probably never heard of it. That is why I am not a Nord. I’m Fereldan. And you are some kind of elf, yes?”

Amariel cocked an eyebrow, gazing at him as if he’d sprouted two heads and six eyeballs. “By Y’ffre! Had I known a madman would stumble into my camp this evening I might I chosen a different spot!”

Rayvin stood up, gazing down at her. “Sweet Maker! I swear to you I’m not a madman. In my world there was an eluvian, a portal meant for transportation. I found another one but it looked different. There were faces around it and it was a different color. The last elf I spoke to said it may have been one of the Oblivion gates… whatever that is... that somehow attached to the eluvian in my home realm. It’s strange, I know. I don’t understand it myself.”

Amariel still eyed him suspiciously. It seemed the man had been through a great ordeal, “Sounds to me like you somehow caught the notice of a Daedric prince, which one is hard to say though. I would try to explain the Daedra to you, but I’m not sure I’d know where to begin.” Her expression changed to one of sympathy. “And yes, I am an elf. I’m a Bosmer… a wood elf.”

Rayvin settled back down by her fire. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Amariel.”

He drew an apple from his pack and took a bite out of it as Amariel watched him carefully. The armor he wore, his warpaint and the large sword he carried wasn’t like the ones she’d seen most Nords wearing or wielding. Perhaps he was telling the truth.

He wasn’t her burden to worry about, however. She’d share her fire for the night then send him on his way come dawn, pointing him in the direction of the capital.

His survival was up to him.

***

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen: Hunter and Prey

“So back where you say you’re from, do you really only have one type of elf?” Amariel asked, narrowing her eyes slightly, which told Hawke she was scrutinizing him carefully.

“Yep! One kind, sweetheart,” Hawke added a nod for emphasis. “Honestly, how many kinds are there here anyway? An elf is an elf, right?”

Amariel resisted the temptation to roll her eyes and instead looked down at the fire. “Basically there are four ‘kinds’ of elves. You have the Altmer or High Elves, which are typically arrogant and...well, I’ll tell you more about them later, because they are actually here, basically ruling Skyrim and the rest of the world, or so they think,” she wrinkled her nose in disgust.

“Ah, one of the ‘I rule the world’ kind. I knew someone like that back home. Fucker. He didn’t stand a chance against me though. I’m a blatantly honest, disrespectful bastard towards ‘authoritative’ people. Particularly assholes who think they ‘rule’,” Hawke smirked. Amariel found herself bursting out laughing and her eyes twinkled briefly.

“Then I think you and I will get along just fine!” she exclaimed with a smirk of her own.

“Two are my closest friends are elves. There’s Fenris. He used to be a slave, but ran away. Now he’s free because I helped him kill his former master. And then there’s Merrill. She’s a Dalish Elf. The Dalish roam the wild places of my world and swear they will never again submit to anything or anyone.” Hawke mused with a faraway look in his eyes. He missed them both, but there was nothing he could do about it. He gave himself a mental shake and focused his attention back on Amariel. “Tell me more about the other ‘kinds’ of elves.”

“My people are the Bosmer or Wood Elves. We hail from a place called Valenwood. Our Altmer cousins considered us to be uncivilized. Many of us follow the Green Pact, meaning we consume nothing that is vegetation or plant matter. Only meat. Our cities are built in large migratory trees, our houses fashioned through magic.” Amariel explained.

Rayvin glanced around her camp before he asked his next question and took note that she didn’t seem to have any plant matter near her fire. No wonder she had flashed him an odd look earlier when he had eaten an apple. “Do you follow this Green Pact?”

“I do. I am a proud worshipper of Y’ffre, he who is the Storyteller. God of Song and Forest, and Spirit of the Now. I hold to the tenets of the Pact. I do not judge others who do not, especially those who do not know our ways.”

Rayvin chuckled, “That’s good. I’d hardly want to piss off one of the few friendly faces I’ve met.” He flashed one of his smiles her way. “When I first arrived in this world, I came through a portal. I met an elf in the cave where it was located. He was different, but there were others there as well. He called them ‘the Betrayed’ because he didn’t like calling them the Falmer.”

“Falmer. They were once Snow Elves, but years of living underground have turned them into the blind monstrosities that they are today. They are evil. I’d avoid them if I were you.” Amariel shivered, but the chill in her blood had nothing to do with the cool breeze blowing through the camp. “The fourth kind of elf you’ll most likely encounter are Dunmer or Dark Elves. The Dark Elves came to Skyrim from Morrowind, after Vvardenfell erupted. Most of them settled in Winterhold or Windhelm, but they are not made to feel welcome in Windhelm. The Jarl of Windhelm is a racist bigot who is content to allow them live in a slum. It’s rather sad. Many of the Dunmer I’ve met are accomplished mages.”

“Are mages free here? Where I came from when a mage came into their power which was usually as a child, the Templars took the mage away to the Circle of Magi and that is where they lived out their entire life. Some of the Circles were more akin to prisons than edifices of learning. Then the Mage Rebellion changed everything. The Circles fell and all mages went free. Most reacted poorly.” Rayvin grimaced. Much of the Mage Underground had been crushed in the aftermath of the rebellion. There hadn’t been anything he or Anders could do about it.

Amariel shook her head, flashing him an expression of bewilderment. She wasn’t sure what he was talking about. Circle of Magi? Templars? Mage Rebellion? His world seemed odd, indeed. “Yes, mages are free here. Why wouldn’t they be? I’ve never heard of any of those things you just mentioned. If a person wants to study magic, they can go to the College of Winterhold. However, the Nords of Skyrim are very fearful and distrustful of magic. You look like you’d fit in with them, but if you have favorable opinions of magic, you might want to keep it to yourself. Most Nords are quick to brawl.”

“Sounds like fun,” Rayvin guffawed. “I’m always up for a fight.”

That brought forth a giggle from Amariel.

“When I was at Hunter’s Rest last, one of the others brought news of the return of the dragons to Skyrim as well as High King Torygg’s death at the hands of the Ulfric Stormcloak, the Jarl of Windhelm. It seems Jarl Ulfric wants to free Skyrim from Imperial rule and has started a rebellion. Dragons and a civil war,” she sighed. “I think the only thing he’ll accomplish is bringing the Aldmeri Dominion down on us all and forcing a second Great War. A war I don’t think the Empire will survive this time.”

“Empire? I’m new here, remember. Fuck, I really don’t even have a clue as to where I am.” Rayvin raked his fingers through his long black hair. All of this was confusing.

“The province of Cyrodiil is south of here and is home of the Emperor and the Empire, which encompasses the provinces of Skyrim, High Rock, Elsweyr, Morrowind, and Black Marsh. The province of Hammerfell, home to a race called Redguards seceded from the Empire. My homeland, Valenwood, is considered part of the Aldmeri Dominion.”

Hawke shook his head. “How do you people even get your history straight! Who or what is the Aldmeri Dominion?”

“They would be the ‘ruling elves’ I spoke about earlier,” she spat out with a scowl. “The Altmer race. If you meet them on the road, be sure to say you don’t believe in Talos!”

Rayvin burst out laughing. “I wouldn’t mind killing them if they make it hard for me. I can handle myself.”

“They have powerful mages,” Amariel commented, shaking her head.

Rayvin chuckled. “I’ll be fine.”

“Your funeral,” Amariel shrugged. “Well, it’s late, so I’ll head inside to get some sleep.”

“Good night and see you in the morning, where I hope you’ll allow me to help out with hunting for breakfast?”

“That would be nice,” Amariel beamed at him. “You have a good night.”

Rayvin didn’t have much in the way of a bedroll, just the pelts of the sabre cat and the two wolves he had killed earlier that day. He laid them out beside the small fire and hunkered down upon them. His armor protected him from most of the night’s chill, but as the fire burned down, he began to shiver. His teeth chattered and he couldn’t sleep.

Amariel had always been a light sleeper. One had to be out in the wilds like this. There was always a threat of a wild animal attacking the camp or worse yet, a Forsworn savage. The noise coming from fire was loud enough to rouse the dead. She sighed and slipped from her bedroll.

“Come with me and try to be quiet. The key to surviving out here at night is not alerting anything to your presence,” she tapped him on the shoulder and murmured.

Rayvin flicked his eyes over her, surprised that she only wore her smallclothes. A smile crossed his lips as he scrambled up and followed her.

“Since we are sharing, you’d be better off and most likely more comfortable without the heavy armor. On a night like this, body heat is the best way to stay warm.”

A lopsided grin crossed Rayvin’s face and his eyes glittered merrily, “That eager to get me in bed, huh? I’m not that easy. You could buy me dinner first.”

“Or I could let you freeze,” she shot back with a matching grin. “Your choice.”

“So much for pride,” Rayvin chuckled as he began to undo the many straps on his armor, slowly removing it piece by piece. He stowed it near him in the small tent before joining her in her bedroll. It proved to be a tight squeeze, but it generated enough heat to keep them both toasty warm for the duration of the night.

***

Rayvin was the first to wake up, noticing a morning erection as always. He found himself shifting against Amariel’s warm body and he groaned slightly. Her warm flesh felt good but before he could snuggle too closely an image of Cullen suddenly forced its way into his brain.

He sighed as he turned over, a feeling of hopelessness taking control. The sleeping elf beside him moaned. She turned and snuggled against him, putting her head on his chest. Then, as she woke up, she opened her eyes and realized who she was snuggling against.

She blushed as she eyed him and Rayvin managed a weak smile.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” he said trying to sound as cheerful as possible, the image of Cullen now seared into his brain. He struggled against the lump in his throat and shut his eyes tightly.

“Good morning, Rayvin,” the elf replied. “I trust you slept well?”

“Like a log,” he murmured. A long moment of silence followed. Then he felt her lean towards him, one of her legs finding his half-erection and rubbing against him. Rayvin’s eyes opened quickly, only to find himself staring into her lovely elven eyes.

“I’m so glad,” she almost purred.

Rayvin sat up, disentangling himself from her as much as he could. “I’m sorry, Amariel. I just can’t,” he murmured. Her eyes opened wide and she lowered them. Rayvin could see the disappointment in hers, as well as a flash of embarrassment as she blushed deeply. “It’s not you at all, you are very attractive. It’s me.”

Her eyes immediately locked into his as she shook her head. “No, forgive me. I should not have been so forward. I thought -” she trailed off, blushing even more as she looked down at the sleep roll again.

“No, it is me,” Rayvin hurried to say, interrupting her. “I recently lost someone I - I care for. Deeply. We were supposed to be together, but then I got pulled into your world. You are very attractive. I just can’t -”

“I am sorry,” Amariel said immediately realizing he was speaking truthfully. “I understand. I’ve been through that before…”

Rayvin smiled at her. “Please, don’t be offended. This truly has nothing to do with you.”

“It’s fine,” she said with a beaming smile. “No harm done.”

At that moment Rayvin’s stomach growled very loudly and they both burst out laughing. Rayvin didn’t waste any time finding a private spot to empty his full bladder, ridding himself of the troublesome morning wood. Then he rejoined her in the camp and donned his armor, ready to face the day. She handed him a few strips of dried meat to chew on to stave off his hunger before they headed out.

“Do you always hunt with a greatsword?” Amariel cocked a brow as she tried to hide a grin. Foolish man, he’d never catch any game that way.

Rayvin smacked himself on the head, “Ah! I knew I was forgetting to bring my trusty dwarf and his magnificent crossbow, Bianca. Never leave home without ‘em!” He laughed as she stared at him in disbelief.

“You’ve seen a dwarf, a real Dwemer?” Her face was painted with awe, her large eyes grew double their normal size.

“Dwe-mer? What’s that? No, Varric isn’t what you’re talking about. He’s from my world. His race stands about this tall,” Rayvin held his hand at mid-chest height. “Most of his people live underground, but a great many also live on the surface. He’s a surfacer dwarf, a member of the Merchant Caste, but he’d rather write books, tag along with me and shoot people… only ones that deserve it.”

“Oh,” she sighed, “I thought maybe since you came from this other world and you knew a dwarf that maybe that’s where the Dwemer went when they disappeared thousands of years ago. The Dwemer were a race of elves, but they don’t exist anymore. It’s said they not only warred among themselves, but with the Nords as well. They left behind their cities, their technologies, but they are all gone and I doubt they will ever return. It’s probably for the best. It’s said they spurned the Gods and believed in science instead.”

Rayvin listened to her attentively. What she had to say was interesting. Besides he needed to learn as much as he could about this world if he was going to survive here. At least until he could find a way back home.

“Can you at least shoot a bow? I have an extra one that you can borrow.” Her dulcet tone brought him out of his musing.

“Yes, but probably not as well as you. Growing up, I did a fair bit of hunting. It put meat on the table during the lean times, especially after my father died and I became the man of the house. I used to be able to bring down a deer or a ram with ease, but that’s been ages ago. In the intervening years I became the Champion of a city-state and helped start a rebellion.”

Amariel handed him the bow. It sounded like he’d been through a great deal. She was glad she’d rethought her earlier decision to send him on his way at first light. He was alone in a world he knew nothing about. It would be cruel to not lend him a helping hand. “Let’s go see if you remember anything from that time. This region is ripe with game.”

And then they were off.

Rayvin followed close behind her. It was strange to him. Usually he was the one leading his companions on some merry quest. As they made their way across the land, she pointed out different species that she caught sight of at a distance. Wolves, bears, sabres cats, giants, mammoths, hares, and even trolls. As they crossed a stream, she pointed to what looked to be a rock. When they came too close, it suddenly moved, its pincers snapping at them defensively.

“That is a mudcrab, annoying little buggers,” she grimaced.

Rayvin chuckled. “Met some of them yesterday.”

After crossing the stream, Amariel led him up a trail she had used in the past. She knew there was usually game to be found here. Hunkering down behind a juniper tree, she waited and watched. “I saw fresh tracks. Looks like a good sized elk came through here not too long ago. If we wait a bit, I bet it’ll come back on its way to the stream.”

Rayvin’s brow furrowed. “Why would it come back if it was here not long ago?”

“Because they are out foraging for food at this time in the morning, too and they don’t stray too far from water. Trust me. I’ve hunted most of my life.”

Rayvin knelt down beside her behind the tree, remaining as still as possible. As they watched and waited, an elk came around the foliage to their right and stood still, sniffing at the wind.  Amariel placed her hand on Rayvin’s knee, cautioning him to remain still as it passed by. She knew the elk more than likely knew they were there just by their scent and she didn’t want to lose this one. It was a big bull elk and would feed them both for a while. Plus its hide would fetch a good price.

She pulled her bow from her back, nocked an arrow and fired in one swift motion that brought her to her feet. As soon as she was up, Rayvin followed suit, though his attempt was not nearly as graceful as hers. The elk sprang into the air, with one arrow embedded in its neck and the other in its chest. Her second shot caught the elk mid leap, striking it in the throat. It fell to the ground with a shudder.

She knelt beside the fallen elk, cleanly slitting its throat to ensure it was dead. Then with Rayvin’s help, she field dressed it. “We should probably get this back to camp before the wolves catch its scent.”

***

Rayvin remained with Amariel for several more days, during which she took him out hunting on a daily basis. He learned much during this time, mostly how to survive in the wilds of this rather unforgiving land. Together they brought down bears and sabre cats, wolves and elk. Rayvin even convinced her into taking on a stray mammoth, though during this hunt she stayed back peppering the great beast with arrows while Rayvin got in close, battling it with his Warblade. That didn’t mean Rayvin came out of it unscathed. The mammoth’s tusks were sharp and being hit by its trunk felt like he’d been hit by a tree.

She taught him how to cure the hides of the beasts they had hunted upon her tanning rack and let him keep them, telling him that he would need them more than she would. For the most part, she had everything she needed. She also started to teach him about things in the wild that could be used to as alchemical ingredients for potions or poisons.

One morning, when they had been out hunting, Rayvin had gotten swiped by a saber-toothed tiger and in spite of dressing it the best he could, by the time they returned to camp it was starting to fester. He felt a little light-headed and had to kneel in front of the fire for a few minutes instead of helping Amariel with the hide. She immediately noticed the change in him and hurried to his side.

“What’s wrong, Hawke?” she asked, her voice laced with concern. He was holding his right side and grimacing, so she tugged his hand away. “Silly man, don’t you know it could fester worse? You should have worn your armor!” She said and then ordered him to take his tunic off. The sight of him half-naked didn’t bother her in the least, they were really over that embarrassing moment at the beginning when she shared her bedroll with him.

“I’ll teach you a lesson in healing,” she said with a smile, turning to look at him. “One day you’ll be on your own, I can’t follow you everywhere.”

“You mean magic? I can’t do magic,” Hawke replied, a gasp of pain escaping from his lips.

“I could give you a healing potion right here and now, but what if you run out of healing potions and can’t make them? Knowing how to heal could even save your life.”

“Sweetheart, I just told you I don’t -” Hawke began, but Amariel cut him short.

“Anyone can do magic. It’s inside you. You just have to drink the magicka potion I give you and it will be easier,” the elf said confidently.

“What if I run out of THAT potion you’re going to give me now?” Hawke asked back.

“Don’t be silly, once your magic is out, it will be there, you won’t need to drink another potion, unless you want to do more complicated spells!”

“Well, I could learn a basic healing spell for now,” Hawke replied, his voice eager in spite of the circumstances.

“I’m sensing you aren’t afraid of magic, like the rest of the people in Skyrim,” she giggled.

“Maybe because my father was a mage. My little sister was one too,” Rayvin added, his voice now serious, his sad gaze fixed on the horizon as if he was remembering something from the past. The sadness in his eyes prompted Amariel to be extra cheerful, so he could focus on the present instead of some distant memory.

“Ah! Well, you could have told me this sooner! And you say you don’t have magic!” she shook her head, chuckling. “Here drink this down. We’ll wake your magic up, and you should be good not only for a healing spell, but for a basic elemental spell or two as well!”

Hawke smiled as he looked back at her. “What do I have to do?”

Amariel’s serious countenance looked back at him. “First, you have to relax. Just don’t think of anything. It’s probably going to take a while, but it’s because it’s the first time.”

Hawke nodded, waiting eagerly and patiently for her next words.

“Now I want you to imagine your wound, feel it, close your eyes and feel the pain. You are going to have to clean what is unclean. Imagine you feel a warm glow coming from within. If and when you do, you’ll start to feel the warmness actually spreading throughout your body. Not your imagination. The warm glow will fight the unclean, you will cast it out using your willpower. All the time you will be seeing everything inside. The wound will be clean only if you allow it to be clean. For this you MUST understand that you CAN and WILL do this. Are you ready?”

Then something that Amariel didn’t expect happened: Hawke opened his eyes with a smile on his face and a soft golden beam shot out of his right hand. Amariel’s eyes opened wide. She hadn’t told him to project his healing energy yet.

“I see you are a natural,” she said quietly. “It must be because your father is a mage.”

“I also lived with a mage for a number of years, so I probably was exposed to more magic than anyone else in Kirkwall,” Hawke said quietly, gazing down at the golden glow that continued to emanate from his hand.

Amariel beamed at him, nodding. She felt his magicka swell suddenly and she chuckled. “I think you know what comes next, but just to be on the safe side I’ll guide you through it.”

Hawke nodded enthusiastically. “I feel like I need to put my hand over the wound.”

“That’s because you do have to put your hand over your wound,” Amariel nearly whispered to him, not daring to raise her voice. The glow was intensifying and it was too beautiful for words. “Try to clean the wound and then weave it together, imagine weaving, but instead of the thread you have -”

“Threads of energy,” Hawke whispered as he watched the golden threads move over his wound again and again. “Now I know what my father and Anders meant when they talked about the feeling when you heal. It feels like I’m floating. Like I’m actually INSIDE the wound, working to mend it, but with tendrils of gold…”

His voice trailed off as they both watched the healing magical energy at work. In a matter of minutes, the wound was nearly non-existent.

Hawke raised his eyes to Amariel. Her mouth was open in an ‘o’ of wonder and she glanced at him with round eyes. “It’s beautiful. You, my friend, are a natural.”

***

Rayvin learned much from her, but he knew he couldn’t remain with her forever. As nice as having a companion was, he knew if he didn’t leave, he’d never find a way back home. He very much wanted to see Cullen again. So one morning, as she prepared their breakfast, he broke the news to her.

“I’ve been thinking,” he began as he sat beside her. “As kind as you’ve been, I really need to find a way back to my own world. The mage college might be a start.”

“Like I said before, I know you have to go your own way. Winterhold, however is all the way on the other side of Skyrim,” Amariel shrugged, “I’m not trying to discourage you, but if you’ve truly caught the notice of one of the Daedric lords, you might find it not so easy to escape their grasp. I’ve thought about it. It sounds like either Sheogorath or Sanguine is involved. Maybe even Hermaeus Mora. If it is any of them, you might find them unwilling to let you go before their curiosity is satisfied.”

Rayvin frowned. He still didn’t understand who or what the Daedric lords were and why they’d be interested in him. “Be that it may I still have to try. I’m not asking you to help me, sweetheart. I need to do something more than just survive.”

Amariel nodded. She understood. She may not have had his special circumstances, but she knew what he was going through. She had left Valenwood and made the long journey north to discover a freedom like she had never known just waiting for her. It wasn’t a life for everyone, but she was happy.

Rayvin bade her farewell after he had eaten breakfast and set out on his own again. Using the map he had found in the one Forsworn cave and her rough knowledge of the entire province, she sketched out a few landmarks between her current camp and the main road through the Reach. If he found the main road, following it through the holds, he would make it to Winterhold.

It was harder to follow than he had expected. He had gotten lost a few times, and had to backtrack. It didn’t take long for him to realize, however, that it was not the beasts of Skyrim that one had to be wary of. Lurking around every bend, or behind every fortification were the Forsworn. Natives of the Reach who were determined to drive all others out, especially the Nords.    

He had a hard time with them, even if it was just the tedious movements of attacking and killing. The vast majority of the Forsworn struck madly, and this meant they didn’t think their attacks through. On top of it, they were not very good at melee fights. The bowmen, however, were a different story. The majority were sharpshooters and Rayvin had a hard time dodging their arrows. Fortunately, he was quick to learn that if he killed them first, he would finish off the melee fighters easily.

He gave up on Winterhold after he had a bad fight with a rather large group. He needed a bit of time to heal his wounds, so he made camp in the place he had cleaned out and rested for a while there. He thought better of his plan, and decided he needed to sell off all the pelts he had. It was beginning to get tiresome to walk carrying everything around. Besides, he needed to see people. Cullen was almost always on his mind. Besides he really needed a drink.

You could only get drinks in a town.

With a sigh, he set off down a road early one morning hoping to reach a settlement or town soon.

***

Finding a settlement or a town proved to be easier said than done, however. It seemed every mile or so he traveled he ran into a wild animal which inevitably attacked and added another pelt to his collection. Or he was beset by bandits. The bandits he didn’t mind so much. They usually had coin and goods he could loot from their corpses. That had also been the only good thing about the Forsworn. While their weapons and armor were made of hides and bone and quite inferior to his Champion gear, he soon realized they usually had a small bit of coin and gems on them, which took up less space.

As he stopped by a fast moving stream in order to fill a skin with water, he heard a noise from behind him. Rayvin glanced over his shoulder, catching the shadow of an individual. Soft footsteps quietly padded their way up behind him.

Rayvin sprang up and whirled around, pulling his Warblade from his back all in one fluid motion. He halted his blade at the throat of the hooded figure behind him. “You must have a death wish to try to sneak up on me,” he growled.

“Empty your pockets and hand over that pretty blade. Khajiit will not ask twice.” A smooth voice demanded as it removed the hood to reveal the face of a cat.

Rayvin cocked a perplexed brow, “And just what the fuck are you supposed to be?”

“A thief who is poised to make off with all your coin, Nord. As I said, Khajiit will not ask twice.”

This one sounded much like Zevran, but lacked the elf’s inherent charm. Rayvin rolled his eyes, “Seeing how I am the one holding the sword at your throat, I think you are going to get out of my face, cat, before you no longer have a head. Because I will have no compunction chopping it off and using the rest of you as my new loincloth.”

The hooded Khajiit in front of him gave an ear flick and wink, which clued Rayvin into the fact there was more than one. As the one before him went for his weapon, Rayvin drew back his sword, twirled the pommel in his hand and brought it down to skewer the one who’d closed in behind him. Then he yanked it out, swung it around decapitating the Khajiit thief in front of him. Both were down in a matter of seconds. He quickly looted their corpses, discovering a good sized pouch of gold coins on the one who had accosted him. He stowed it in his pack for safekeeping and continued down the road.

Cat people,” he murmured. “Anders would have loved this place.”

He shook his head, not allowing himself to muse over the past. “Everything tries to kill you in this world. Justice would have loved it here, too!”

Returning to the road, he put a few more miles on his boots. Certainly he’d find some kind of civilization soon. Or at least he hoped. He was starting to talk to himself and worse yet, answer himself.

“I must be going crazy! If this is the Maker’s idea of a joke, he’d better have one hell of punchline lined up.”

***

A female figure wearing studded armor strolled along at a leisurely pace a few meters ahead of him. The way she moved seemed familiar to him and that armor… it had to be her. Rayvin quickened his pace, breaking out into a jog and hurried to catch up to her. The closer he got, the more details he could discern. The pale blonde hair with its intricate braiding and dusky skin.

“Amariel!” He called out breathlessly as he reached her.

She grinned as she glanced over at him. “I thought that was you. I saw you from a distance and cut cross country and still managed to come out ahead of you. I figured you’d be halfway to Winterhold by now.”

He settled in at an even pace at her side, flashing a sheepish look in her direction. “I got lost. Fought a large camp of the Forsworn devils and I found a book. The Legend of Red Eagle. Even found the sword they mentioned in the book that is supposed to be the key to getting into Red Eagle’s tomb. What I haven’t found is the location of said tomb. The book called it Rebel’s Cairn. I need a better map of this place and with all the damn pelts I’ve collected I need to find a town. Sell some shit. See some people. Have a drink.” Rayvin sighed, inwardly commiserating over his predicament.

“I’m headed to Hunter’s Rest if you’d like to join me. It’s a gathering spot for hunters obviously. So that’ll provide you with the company you seek and I’m sure someone will have a spare map they’d be willing to part with. You could do some trading. And there will be plenty of mead flowing.”

Rayvin flashed his signature lopsided grin at her. “You said the magic words, sweetheart.”

***

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen: Falkreath

Hunter’s Rest was a welcome sight for Rayvin. It only consisted on a one room shack, but there were people surrounding the campfire outside of it. Amariel had told him a little about the camp on the way there. It was home to two hunters, Hrol and Kiara. The female had dusky skin that reminded him of Isabela. Had she been from Thedas she would have definitely been from Rivain. The man on the other hand had dark blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. Very cute, but Rayvin wasn’t in the market for a roll in the hay… not when all he wanted was to find a way to make it back home to Cullen.

Amariel sat down at the fire and winked at Rayvin. A wide grin crossed her face, “This is Hawke. I met him in The Reach, but go easy on him. He’s new here and doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.”

Rayvin was far from offended. For the most part it was the truth, but he had gotten better. It would just take longer than he thought to truly find his feet. He plastered a lopsided grin on his face. “That didn’t stop you from inviting my ass into your bedroll, sweetheart. You like it and don’t you deny it. I know you think it’s sexy.”  

Amariel scrunched up her face and laughed, “I do, Y’ffre save me! It’s such a fatalistic curse to always want what I can’t have. Poor me!”

Kiara cocked a dark brow. “Why can’t you have him? What’s wrong, Hawke? Did some thief make off with your pecker?” Mirth glittered in her deep cocoa brown eyes.

Rayvin let out a bark of laughter before he composed himself as an image of Cullen came to mind. “A thief in the form of a gorgeous blond with golden eyes and a smile that could take your breath away. I have never tasted anything finer.”

Hrol tossed Rayvin a bottle of mead, “Good man! I wouldn’t let that go either. Where is she?”

Rayvin glanced at Hrol, suddenly wary of how much information to divulge. In his own world same-sex relations were not forbidden, but there were some countries that looked upon it unfavorably. For the most part, Rayvin had never cared. He knew what he liked. He had agreed heavily with Anders’ philosophy on the matter, that one fell in love with a whole person, not just the body.

This new world he was in could be different. But then again, Rayvin had always stood for what he believed in and had never cared what others thought of him. “Actually, he. His name is Cullen and he is a long way from here and I’m not sure if I’ll ever see him again. Coming to this place,” he swept his arms in an arc, motioning to the sky, “was not by choice. Hopefully I’ll find my way home.”

Amariel studied the looks on the faces of the two hunters. Hrol’s countenance was one of disbelief while Kiara looked like the Khajiit who’d gotten into the moon sugar. “I believe he’s caught the eye of one of the Daedra. Which one, however, I couldn’t say.”

Hrol coughed, “By Ysmir! Hope it’s not ol’ Uncle Sheo.” The blond Nord shook his head and took a sip from the bottle he held in his hand.

“Or Mora, the prince of fate and knowledge.” Kiara added with her lips pursed. Her face held a mien of conjecture.

“That’s what I said,” Amariel piped up. She looked very amused. “I had hoped to find more hunters gathered here. Hawke is in need of a map, among others things.”

“I can help with the map.” Hrol offered. “Tela was through here a fortnight ago and left some of her things. Kiara found what was left of her body the other day up near Glenmoril so she won’t be needing it.”

Sorrow filled Amariel’s eyes, “I’ll miss her.” She tried hard to hide the tears pooling in her large eyes.

Rayvin noted the change in Amariel’s demeanor. The dead hunter must have meant something to her. “What’s Glenmoril?”

Kiara turned her attention to Rayvin. “It’s a cavern a few miles due west of here full of hags and their creatures.”

Amariel quietly excused herself from the campfire and walked off alone to the edge of the camp. Her shoulders were slumped, slightly shaking. Rayvin watched as the wood elf brought her hands up to cover her face. He flicked his attention back to the conversation momentarily.

“You may have seen some in The Reach if you’d encountered any of the Forsworn. The hagravens are terrifying. Foul magic at work there.” Hrol shuddered. “They’re a conjoining of woman and bird. Evil things that are highly skilled in destruction magic.”

A disconcerted expression settled onto Rayvin’s features. He hadn’t encountered one yet and from the sound of it, he was glad he hadn’t. “I think that’s the one thing I haven’t encountered in a Forsworn camp. I’ve stumbled upon a few of their camps and the strangest thing I’ve seen so far is a mage that had a little knobby root in his chest where his heart should be. I also learned if you get close enough to them to yank that root out, they collapse and die.”

“More foul Forsworn magic. Those are called Briarheart men. The Hagravens create them.” Hrol commented.

“What’s the deal with the Forsworn? First camp I ever encountered one of the warriors shouted Death to the Nords at me.”

“The Forsworn are Reachmen, not Nords. They believe the Nords stole their homeland from them and they are determined to take it back. So they attack indiscriminately anyone who isn’t one of them. Their king has been imprisoned in Markarth for over 20 years.”

Glancing back to the edge of camp, he couldn’t see Amariel any longer. His brow furrowed in concern. “I’ll be back. I think I’ll check on Amariel.”

Kiara shrugged, “She’ll be fine. She might want some time to herself.”

Rayvin sighed in exasperation and rolled his eyes. He trusted his gut instead and went after the elf. He found her several meters away sitting on a rock outcropping. Silently he sat down beside her and slipped an arm around her thin shoulders.

“I’m not going to ask if you’re alright because it’s obvious the news of the hunter’s death has hit you hard. What I will say is I understand.” Rayvin intoned in a soft voice as he pulled her close to his side. “She must have meant something special to you.”

Amariel nodded her head, but did not speak. She turned, burying her face in the curve of Hawke’s neck. Rayvin comforted her, stroking her back soothingly as she sobbed.

“Several months before I ended up here, a madman I once called a friend captured me and my lover, Anders. He imprisoned us, tortured us, though Anders was subjected to the brunt of it and finally he executed Anders. He forced me to watch. All because of our actions at the onset of the Mage Rebellion.”

Rayvin wrapped his arms around Amariel, pulling her into his lap and holding her tightly. She sniffled and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “Tela and I came to Skyrim together from Valenwood. We’d always been close. For the longest time we only had each other, but people change. She changed. We drifted apart. Last I talked to her she said she wanted to go home, but couldn’t because the Civil War had closed the borders. I’ll miss her.”

Rayvin knew the sentiment well. He missed Anders, but the dashing rebel was gone. He had thought he was doing well when things began with Cullen. He had always been interested in the handsome Commander, even when Cullen was still the Knight-Captain of the Kirkwall templars. Back then there wouldn’t have ever been a chance for them. They had been on different sides for the majority of the time they had known each other. The devout templar and the vocal supporter of mage rights. He had to smile at the times he’d gotten in Cullen’s face and argued that mages were indeed people, that they deserved to be treated with dignity and respect, not subjected to abuse for something they couldn’t change. Cullen’s responses had been laced with Chantry rhetoric back then. Knowing that Cullen’s views had changed, had ceased to be as extreme where mages were concerned, gave him a measure of who the man had become. He liked what he saw even more and couldn’t hold back his desire for the handsome Commander any longer. The moments they shared had been everything he had ever imagined and more. Simmering beneath that shy veneer was a very passionate man.

Amariel remained curled up in Rayvin’s arms until she fell asleep. When he noticed the drop off in her breathing, he lifted her up carefully and carried her back to the camp at Hunter’s Rest, where Kiara made short work of setting up Amariel’s tent. He placed her on her bedroll and curled up with her, holding her throughout the night.

Sleep came easy for him, bringing with it sweet dreams of his gorgeous blond Commander.

***

The following morning found Rayvin on the road again. He had been outfitted with a map, a tent of his own as well as a proper bedroll, and a compass all courtesy of Amariel, who had gone through Tela’s belongings. He noticed she kept a few things as well. Sentimental items , she had commented. Amariel planned to accompany him as far as Lake Ilinalta. There was a hunter who usually camped near the lake that she needed to see. After that, she intended to head back to the Reach.

The road was quiet, with few travelers. They did pass an Imperial patrol escorting a prisoner in rags. The soldiers barked orders for them to move along. Rayvin sneered, but kept walking. They reminded him too much of the templars in Kirkwall. At the crossroads, Amariel pointed him in the direction of Falkreath.

“Stay on this road,” she quipped with a teasing grin. “It’ll lead you straight to the town. You should be able to sell off all that junk you’ve been lugging around.”

Rayvin let out a bark of laughter and hugged her. “Hopefully I’ll see you around, sweetness.” He planted a kiss on her forehead before heading down the road. He hummed a tune as he walked along. It took him no more than an hour to reach Falkreath on foot. The scenery he passed on the way was beautiful, the pine forest lush and verdant. In many ways it reminded him of Ferelden.

When he reached the Falkreath city gates, a guard stopped him. “Did you see a dog out there?”

Rayvin cocked a brow and shrugged, “Can’t say that I did.”

“The blacksmith was offering a reward for a dog he saw on the road. If you haven’t seen it, we’ll have to keep an eye out.” The guard replied then looked Rayvin up and down. “Can’t say I’ve ever seen you around these parts. Word of advice, keep your nose clean and that weapon sheathed.”

Rayvin offered a curt nod. “Can you point me to an inn?”

“You’ll be wanting Dead Man’s Drink. It’s up ahead on the left.” The guard answered then motioned him along. It seemed the man wasn’t given to idle chatter. Rayvin really couldn’t blame him. He knew he sure as hell wouldn’t want to stand around all day and answer questions.

Rayvin nodded a second time, “Much obliged.” Then he headed down into the city, following the cobblestone road to the tavern. Stopping out in front of it, he glanced around, taking in the city surrounding him. As cities went, it wasn’t very large. He would have called it a town. In fact he was sure that Lothering had been bigger.

The largest building sat in the center of the town, though he wasn’t sure what it was for. It clearly wasn’t a temple of any sort. The rest of the buildings and houses were made of wood, stone and thatch. To his right was a building with a sign that said ‘Gray Pine Goods’ and beyond that was the blacksmith. He decided to sell off the junk he was hauling around before he headed to the inn. That way nothing would get in the way of drinking.

Before he had left Hunter’s Rest, Amariel and the others had looked over the goods and pelts he had collected so far and had given him their appraisal on what the items were worth. He knew what to expect from vendors in Kirkwall, but this wasn’t his home. It helped going into the situation having a bit of knowledge. He didn’t mind having to haggle, but he definitely didn’t want to sound like a fool. Or did he want to be taken by a shady merchant.

As far as dealing with the merchant in the dry goods store, the man who said his name was Solaf looked over the few gems and pelts and offered up a fair price for all. Rayvin pocketed the coin and browsed the goods the shop had to offer.

As he picked up a silver sapphire necklace to examine the gem, the shopkeep spoke up, “I’ll sell that to you for five-hundred gold.”

Rayvin looked it over. He knew he didn’t have that much gold on him. Maybe back at Skyhold and certainly back in Kirkwall at his estate. “It’s pretty,” he commented. “Matches my eyes.”

Then he set it back down in its display case, glancing at it wistfully. Had things been different he’d have brought it in a heartbeat.

Solaf’s lip curled in disdain. “Doesn’t matter if it matches your eyes or not, son. If you want it, you’ll have to pay for it. If not, leave it alone. You steal anything in my shop, you’ll regret it.”

Rayvin rolled his eyes and made a disgusted noise. “I’m not your son . And don’t even think of calling me boy. Besides the only things I’ve ever stolen have been a few dozen hearts.”

Then he chuckled and left the shop.

He had better luck selling off the rest of his goods at Lod’s smithy. All the serviceable weapons and armor the blacksmith bought at a good price, though he raised an eyebrow when he saw all of it.

“Bandits. Thieves. Forsworn,” Rayvin grinned. “Idiots, all of them.”  

Lod laughed at Rayvin’s quip. “There’s nothing like the end times to bring out the lawless. I’m not sure what’s worse. Ulfric’s rebellion or the return of the dragons.”

“Dragons?” His grin grew wider.

“Aye. Helgen was attacked by a dragon a few months back. From what I heard, it destroyed the whole town. General Tullius had Jarl Ulfric in custody. He was in line for the chopping block because he murdered High King Torygg then a dragon attacked and Ulfric escaped. I hear he’s back in Windhelm and seeks to free Skyrim from Imperial control.” The blacksmith replied. “Haven’t you heard any of this before?”

Rayvin shrugged nonchalantly, “Just in idle chatter. This is the first town I’ve been in recently. Mostly been out in the Reach among the hunters.” Then he changed the subject. He wasn’t sure how the locals would respond to his claim that he came from another world. “Do you think you could sharpen my Warblade?”

Rayvin removed the greatsword from his back and passed it off to Lod who looked it over.  

“Looks like you’ve got a few nicks in the edge of the blade. Hopefully you haven’t been hunting with this.”

Rayvin shook his head, “I have a bow for hunting. I think that came from the mammoth a friend and I took down.”

“A mammoth, you say? Hopefully you didn’t have to deal with a giant. They tend to herd the mammoths.”

“No, it was all alone. Fighting a giant, though, that sounds fun.”

Lod flashed a perplexed look, “And dangerous.”

Rayvin let out a bark of laughter. “I like danger.” He browsed Lod’s wares as the blacksmith fixed and sharpened his blade, picking up a quiver of arrows.

“That’s a beautiful weapon,” Lod commented when he handed it back. “Finely crafted. Take care of it and it’ll take care of you.”

Lod tacked a couple septims onto the price of the arrows to cover the sharpening and repair of the blade and Rayvin handed him the coin. Then bade the man farewell.

It was time to head to the tavern.

***

“Shor’s bones. A handsome man in Falkreath,” the scantily clad tavern wench exclaimed as he passed by her and reached for the door handle of Dead Man’s Drink.  

Rayvin flashed a smile at her, looking her up and down. Her red hair was pulled back in small braids. Her sparkling green eyes lined with kohl. Several gaudy gold and gemstone necklaces adorned the unblemished expanse between her throat and deep cleavage. Complementing the jewels was her yellow and green silken dress with a low decolletage that offered a hint of nipple.

The wench smiled back, offering a saucy wink. She stopped sweeping the porch for a moment, leaning against the broom handle as she adopted an alluring pose. Her perfume wafted by him as the breeze picked up. It had quite the effect on him as he felt himself harden. Immediately he stifled a groan that caught in his throat as the image of golden eyes and curly blond locks formed in his mind. It forced him to look away. He yanked the door open and entered the inn without a backwards glance.

The interior of the inn was much like the exterior, wood and stone. A cheery fire burned within a pit in the center of the room. Tables and benches flanked the walls and a large bar sat at the far end. He strode purposefully towards it, shaking off the desire he had felt. He needed a drink.

A sultry dark haired, dark skinned female stood behind it, cleaning a mug. She smiled as he sat down on one of the stools flanking her counter. “Welcome to Dead Man’s Drink. What can I get you?”

“Whiskey and keep it coming.” Rayvin said as he dug out a few coins.

An odd look crossed her face. She cocked a fine brow at Rayvin. “We have ale, wine and mead.”

Rayvin rubbed his face and gritted his teeth, growling. What kind of place was this that didn’t have whiskey? “Make it a bottle of your strongest wine then.”

The barmaid pulled out a green glass bottle and set it before him then counted the coins he’d laid out, “This is Alto wine. You’ll need nine more septims for this bottle.”

Rayvin counted the coins out, placing them on the table while he swiftly popped the cork. He drank deeply from the bottle. The strong spirits flooded him with warmth and he smiled. That really hit the spot.

“Sweetheart, this is the best thing I've had all day and my day has been rough,” he managed to say before lifting the bottle for another swig. “Here’s to drinking to oblivion and back.”

“By the way, I’m Valga. If you need anything let me know.” She flashed a grin as she pocketed his coin. “I tell ya, I’ll wager Oblivion is involved with what's happened recently around here. Man comes here, we welcome him, and he ends up killing a little girl, a little angel. She hadn’t even reached her tenth winter. Can you believe that? There's a daedra involved somehow, mark my words! They got him in a cell, don't know why they don't kill him and be done with it. An eye for an eye.”

“You don’t say,” Rayvin drawled before pushing away from the bar. He wasn’t in the mood to listen to the barmaid drone on and on about recent events. All he wanted to do was drink. Grabbing his bottle, he retreated to the opposite side of the inn, choosing a lone chair in the far corner.

The tavern wench who had been outside entered the taproom clinging to the arm of the same strapping blond who ran the dry goods shop. Rayvin gazed upon them both intently, though his eyes lingered on the blond more so than the wench. Attractive, that he was, but the man’s attitude left a bad taste in his mouth.

He sat down at the bar, ordering a pint of ale. “Keep them coming and keep them strong, Valga.”

A pleasant smile crossed her face as she sat a mug down in front of him, “Will do, Solaf.”

Rayvin spent the evening listening to the minstrel play. He ordered another bottle of wine from the redheaded wench, learning that her name was Narri. When she brought it to him, she lingered for a few moments, preening. “I have half a mind to ask you to take me along with you on one of your adventures, but I can’t leave Valga all alone.”

“Sweetheart, I’d have half a mind to accept if I weren’t already spoken for,” he winked playfully.

“The good ones always are,” she sighed wistfully. “Let me know if you need another drink.”

Hawke nodded and watched her saunter away. As the evening slipped into night, he sank deeper into the bottle. The strong wine clouded his senses.  I made him forget what he had lost. He liked it that way. He watched as the townsfolk trickled in and he listened to their chatter. It made him feel like the outsider he knew he was.

He drained the second bottle and called for a third.

He didn’t belong here. This wasn’t his world. He hated knowing he was alone and worse yet, he knew there was nothing he could do about it quite yet.

***

Hawke paid for a room for the night, looking forward to sleeping in a real bed for once. When Valga offered to show him to the room he rented, he flashed his best lopsided grin and swatted her on the bottom. She let out a startled yelp.

“You going to tuck me in, sweetheart?”

“I think you’re capable of tucking yourself in.” Valga leveled an unamused glare upon him. She didn’t like it when her patrons got handsy. Usually that sort of behavior was directed at Narri who had her own ways of dealing with it.

Rayvin grinned at her. “Ah, come on, Bella.” He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her against his armored chest. “Don’t be like that.”

Valga struggled to break free. “Unhand me!”

A blond sitting at the bar beside Solaf stood up. “Leave her alone. She isn’t interested.”

Solaf stood up, grabbing his younger hot headed brother’s arm. “Sit down, Bolund. I’ll handle it.” He glared at Rayvin. “I believe Valga asked you to unhand her. I’d do as she says, boy , because there isn’t a man in here that wouldn’t jump to her defense.”

Glaring at the Solaf, Rayvin let go of Valga and strode around the counter. He stopped in front of Solaf, grabbing him by the throat. “Don’t call me boy.”

The clawed talons of Rayvin’s gauntlets dug into the tender flesh of Solaf’s throat. He gritted his teeth as he lifted the man a few inches off the floor. The man he held started to kick his feet. Rayvin could feel the man’s adam’s apple bob as he tried to gulp in a breath.

“Let my brother go!” Bolund shouted, drawing the iron dagger from its sheath at his waist.

A sneer curled Rayvin’s upper lip as he caught sight of the tiny weapon. “Put the pigsticker away before you hurt yourself.”

“And I told you to let go of my brother!” Bolund brandished the dagger in Rayvin’s direction.

Rayvin laughed out loud as if it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen. He released Solaf, letting him fall to the floor at his feet. Then he drew his Warblade, pointing it straight at Bolund’s heart. “You’re in over your head, boy. Word of advice: don’t fuck with me. I’m your worst nightmare.”

Solaf coughed and sucked in a much needed breath. He staggered to his feet and slapped the extended blade away from his brother. He had the feeling that the outsider before them was no stranger to battle. He had the look of a hardened warrior and their daggers would be no match for that large and deadly greatsword. The blond looked around. Every man in the inn were on their feet, hands on the pommels of their weapons.

Two of Falkreath’s guards came into the tavern, their battleaxes drawn. “Sheathe your weapon and come quietly, outsider. You were warned to keep your nose clean while in Falkreath.”

“I will not!” Rayvin shot back, leveling a menacing glare at the guard.

“You have disturbed the Jarl’s peace and assaulted two of Falkreath’s citizens. If you will not come of your own accord, we will add resisting arrest to the list of crimes you have committed.” The second guard added as two more guardsmen entered the tavern.

Rayvin sized them up. He knew none of them would be a match for him. He could cut them all down with a swing or two of the Warblade, but that would solve nothing and only serve to make matters worse. Continuing to glare at all of them, he sheathed his greatsword and drew back his arm, promptly burying his fist into Solaf’s gut. “Stay out of my business,” he warned before stepping towards the guards. Cold fury flickered in his eyes as he watched the blond sink to the plank floor, clutching his middle and retching violently.

All four surrounded him, grabbing his arms and leading him off to the jail beneath the guard barracks.

“You’ve just earned yourself three nights in jail.”

They directed him to a holding cell, where they made short work of stripping him of everything he had on him, including his Warblade. His belongings were deposited in a chest, to be returned to him once he served his time and he was handed a roughspun tunic and loose pants to wear for the duration of his incarceration.

Three meals a day and a bed. Not a bad deal. Rayvin only wished he hadn’t already paid for a room at the inn. That was ten septims wasted. He quickly dressed in the rags they’d given him and let them escort him to his cell. He perused the rest of the cells. Only one other was occupied. That had to be the man who had murdered the little girl.

Not that it was any of his business. He’d serve his time then get the hell out of his town. He was better off in the Reach dealing with the Forsworn.

Still he was glad that no one from back in Thedas could see him right now. He knew Cullen would be disappointed with his behavior.

He chose a corner of his cell and sank down in it.

“Shameful how the mighty have fallen,” he intoned to no one.

***

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen: A Jarl’s Bidding

Rayvin spent the first two days out of his three days hunkered down in the corner, ignoring the guards who tried provoking a reaction from him when they tossed his meals at him. However, the third morning he was abruptly awoken when a bucket of cold water was thrown upon him. He rolled out of the wet blankets, cursing up a storm as the guard laughed.

“If you’re gonna snore, prisoner, you can do it on your own time.” A second guard sneered as he joined the first. “We don’t want to listen to you.”

Rayvin shook himself, much like his mabari, Scout, would have done after a bath, flinging excess water droplets around the cell. “Fuck you, assholes,” he growled as he flipped both middle fingers at them. He tore off the roughspun tunic and threw it through the bars, exposing his tattooed chest and arms. “You think you’re fucking funny, right? How about you two assclowns come in here and we’ll see who has the last laugh.”

The two guards ignored his taunt as they went about their business of serving a meager morning meal of thin gruel, a hard heel of bread and a small tin of watered down mead to the other prisoners, skipping Rayvin entirely. It didn’t bother him to miss a meal. It wouldn’t be the first time. He hunkered down against the rear wall of his cell. Today was the last day he’d have to serve, though there was still the matter of the fine he’d have to pay. He just hoped it wouldn’t wipe out the coin he managed to earn so far. If so, he’d be right back where he started.

Easy come, easy go, he sighed.

“They’re like that. Don’t let it get to you.” A gravelly voice came from an adjacent cell.

The sound was enough to draw Rayvin’s attention. He stood, making his way to the bars of his cell, glancing in the direction of the voice. A circular cell in an adjacent corner held a thin, wiry man with dirty blond hair. He wore the same ragged apparel, but the difference in their cells was that this man’s was empty save for a foot or so of water.

He had a feeling he knew who this was from the gossip he’d heard in the tavern, but not even a murderer deserved to be held in such deplorable conditions. It didn’t surprise him, though, considering how the guards treated their prisoners.

“What did you do to earn such pleasant accommodations?” Hawke couldn’t help but keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

“Where else would you keep a monster?” The man replied while he leaned against the bars of his cell.

It afforded Rayvin a better look at who he was talking to. The man was painfully thin, his ribs clearly defined. His hair was unkempt and dirty, his skin pale. “Did you do what the townsfolk say you did? Kill the little girl?”

“You heard about that. Honestly, it wasn't anything I meant to do. I lost control. I tried to tell them, but none of them would listen.”

Rayvin narrowed his vision, taking another good look at the man. There was something about him. He wasn’t sure what, but he’d always been good at reading people and something told him this man was telling the truth. “Who are you and why won’t they listen?”

“Name’s Sinding. What happened to me is all on account of this blasted ring.” He held up his hand, showing the silver wolf’s head ring he wore. “When I came into Falkreath, I heard they needed help at the mill, and I thought that would be something I could do. I thought it would be safe enough. It wasn’t my only reason for coming to this region of Skyrim, though.

Everything was going good… until the little girl started coming around. Then it started. I could feel the bloodlust coming on. I needed to hunt, but this pitiful, limited body wasn't meant for hunting. In this form, it’s slow. No claws, weak, mashing teeth for chewing cud. I held in my rage as long as I could, but the curse overtook me. To the beast, she was nothing more than helpless prey.”

“A child is dead, whether you meant to kill her or not.”

Sinding glanced away under the weight of Rayvin’s accusatory words, and glaring eyes.

“You think I don’t know that. You think I don’t feel terrible about what I did. I never meant for her to die. I just lost control. That’s what it’s been like living with this ring, this curse.”

Rayvin’s brow furrowed as he struggled to understand what Sinding meant. “What does the ring do? What does it have to do with this? There’s more here than meets the eye.”

Sinding scrubbed his face with his hands. He hadn’t really spoken of this with anyone before, but he was running out of time. He sensed this stranger was a decent person, maybe someone who would understand. “This is the Ring of Hircine. It has the power to allow someone like me control over the transformations. Or that’s what it was supposed to do. Hircine cursed it after I stole it. Instead of giving me control, the transformations would come at the worst times. I had no control and a little girl is dead because of it.”

“Transformations?”

Sinding sighed heavily. “There's no point in keeping the secret if I'm going to die here. I may look like a man, but there’s more to me than that. Have you ever heard of men who shift into beasts under the influence of the moons? That’s what I am. A werewolf. It's my secret, and my shame. The beast inside of me is strong, sometimes too strong. I had hoped the ring would work. Now I’ll never know.”

Rayvin’s eyes grew wide. A werewolf. He was talking to an actual werewolf. Werewolves were creatures of legend in Ferelden, where he was born and raised. He grew up hearing the tale, Dane and the Werewolf. It had been said werewolves existed in the Brecilian Forest. “Who is Hircine?”

"Do you not know the Daedric Lord of the Hunt? He is the master of the wild hunt, and gave the 'gift' of lycanthropy to mortals. He is also someone who is not to be crossed, as I learned too late."

“Daedric Lord of the Hunt?” Rayvin shook his head and gave a short, dry laugh. “I can’t say that I have. I’m not from here.”

“I didn’t think so.”

Rayvin pursed his lips, the wheels in his head turning furiously. A warning inside his head told him to just turn away and leave the poor bastard to his fate, that this wasn’t any of his business. To not further insert himself into the problems and affairs of this shithole little town.

But when had Rayvin Hawke ever listened to reason?

Deep in his gut, his primal instinct, the reaver in him, was urging him to do the opposite. To somehow help Sinding out of this predicament. Having a werewolf on his side or having that power as his own could prove useful when he was all alone.

“What if I took the ring with me once they’ve released me? I should be getting out soon.” Rayvin offered, although he wasn’t sure how that would help.

“Oh my, you would do that? Then I have a favor to ask of you. I want to appease Hircine. It is said that there is a certain creature that can be found in the Pine Forest. A large, majestic white stag. It's said that Hircine will commune with whoever slays it. I tracked it into these woods before all of this happened. I want to give him back the ring. You could do this for me.”

“I will, but do you think Hircine will listen to me?”Rayvin asked.

Before Sinding could answer, four guards entered the jailhouse. Sinding immediately darted away, retreating to the far side of his dank cell. The guards ignored him, coming to Rayvin’s cell instead.

“Move slowly to the cell door, prisoner, and hold up your wrists so we can shackle you.” The lead guard barked.

“Why?”

“Do as you’re told, prisoner. The Jarl doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”

Rayvin glared at the guards, his upper lip curling insolently. He couldn’t see the faces of the guards due to their full helms, much like the templars back where he was from. He presented his wrists to the guard who held the shackles. “Why do you all wear the helms? Is it because you’re too fuckin’ ugly to show your faces?”

“Watch your mouth or we’ll toss you in with that murderer.” One of the guards made short work of shackling Rayvin’s wrists before they unlocked his cell door.

Raucous laughter burst from Rayvin’s lips as if that was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. “Go ahead.”

Roughly grabbing him, they escorted him out of the jail. It was a short distance between the barracks where the jail cells were and Jarl’s Longhouse, but was time enough for the chill of the air to seep into Rayvin’s skin.

“Fuck! You could have allowed me to put my armor back on. It’s cold out here,” he protested, shivering as he wore nothing more than a ragged pair of roughspun trousers. He didn’t even have anything covering his feet. Added to it was the fact his hair and trousers were damp from the water the guards had doused him with earlier.

‘“Shut up and keep moving,” the lead guard ordered, pushing Rayvin toward the door of the longhouse the Jarl ruled from.

The interior was rather rustic with a large open fire pit taking up much of the room. It flooded the room with warmth. Trophies of past hunts were mounted on the walls alongside rich purple tapestries that depicted ornate stag heads.

At the rear of the room, lounging in an intricately carved chair was a young dark haired man with an expression on his face that lingered between smugness and boredom.

The lead guard stopped Rayvin, growling a warning before escorting him to the Jarl. “In the presence of Jarl Siddgeir, you will be respectful, prisoner. You will only speak when spoken to and you will not make any threatening moves against him. Any attempt to do so will result in swift reprisal. Are we clear?”

Rayvin growled low in his throat. “If I wanted any of you dead, I could do it. And there’s nothing you could do to stop me. So how about we get this over with?”

Jarl Siddgeir perked up, eying Rayvin with interest as he rubbed his chin. “This is the prisoner you told me about. The one who assaulted Solaf and Bolund. Quite a handful, isn’t he?”

Siddgeir’s smarmy voice only served to infuriate Rayvin even more. He leveled upon him one of his most terrifying glares, causing the armored blond-haired man who had been standing idly beside the Jarl’s throne to pull his mace and step in front of Siddgeir in defense.

“YOU WILL NOT THREATEN THE JARL!” He bellowed, ready to strike if the prisoner made any more aggressive moves.

“Stand down, Helvard.” Jarl Siddgeir ordered.

Rayvin chuckled low in his throat. Rage coursed through him. He strained against the shackles that bound his hands, testing them, flexing his arms, his wrists, seeing if he could break them. “Your guards are smarter than you are, though that’s not saying much.”

“You are powerful and spirited. You have an air about you, a presence. I would venture that you are used to giving orders and having those orders followed. It must be humiliating for you to be in irons. Surprised? I didn’t get to where I am without being able to read people.”

Rayvin stared the man down on the throne fiercely. “And neither did I. You want something from me. What is it? And don’t jerk my chain. I’m in no mood.”

“Then you shouldn’t have broken the law in my city.” A smirk bloomed across the Jarl’s face as he contemplated what to do with the prisoner. “I could let you serve out the rest of your days or you could perform a task for me. What say you?”

“What task might that be? Looks like you already have enough bootlickers around. Not that I’d ever stoop so low.” Rayvin flipped his long mane over his shoulder then flashed an insolent sneer. “Furthermore what’s to stop me from agreeing to perform this task and disappearing?”

Siddgeir eyed Rayvin furtively for a moment. “Like I said, I didn’t get where I am without being able to read people. You seem an honorable sort despite all the anger.”

Rayvin rolled his eyes. This idiot was really starting to get on his nerves, “Depends on the task.”

“There's a group of bandits in my Hold that I... may have had a few discreet dealings with. The cut they were giving me was good at first, but now it's time to clean things up. Go and take care of it.”

“I’m going to assume you want them dead.”

“Yes! Execute every last bandit. Spare no one,” Siddgeir huffed impatiently. “Now off with you.”

A vein in his forehead bulged as he growled. “It would be helpful to know where these bandits are. A map would come in handy.”

The Jarl flashed an audacious glare at Rayvin. “I’ll be sending one of my guardsmen with you to make sure you complete this task.”

“What’s the catch?” Rayvin lifted an eyebrow, his sapphire eyes glaring daggers at the Jarl.

“Consider this working off your fine,” Siddgeir replied in his sycophantic tone that made Rayvin curse vehemently under his breath as the guardsmen surrounding him led him away.

A tall yellow-skinned female elf marched to Siddgeir’s side, her hands planted firmly on her hips. “Siddgeir, you can’t do this,” she shrilly protested.

“Yes, I can, Nenya.”

***

It felt good to don his armor again. Its comfortable weight settled into place and even though it was bulky, it fit him like a second skin. The gigantic Warblade on his back – he wielded it as if it were an extension of his arm. They were one. Once he was fully armed and armored, the guardsman that would be accompanying him returned all his belongings and led him out of the Falkreath Jail.

At the edge of town, the pair headed in the direction Rayvin had originally come into Falkreath from, back toward Lake Ilinalta.

“What’s your name, kid?” Rayvin asked, eying the young man. He had shoulder length auburn hair with twin braids on each side of his head, a neatly trimmed goatee, a freckled complexion and bright green eyes. He barely came up to Rayvin’s shoulders.

“Aeron,” the young man said, “You?”

“Hawke,” Rayvin glanced down at the guard, taking note he was wearing leather armor, but not the same as the guards at the jail. “Why aren’t you in your guard armor?”

Aeron smirked. “Considering the job, I thought that would be obvious. The Jarl doesn’t want his dirty dealings known so this has to be done discreetly.”

“Uh-huh. And when it’s done, do you by chance have orders to kill me? Because that won’t happen. You're not anywhere close to being in my league.” Rayvin sized him up, leveling an intimidating glare upon him.

Aeron’s eyes bulged. He gulped, “Ummm, no. I have no such orders.”

“Don’t piss yourself, kid.”

“I’m not a kid. I’ve seen twenty-four winters and I’m getting married in a few months.”

“Good for you.” Rayvin dug around in his pack, finding one of the bottles of mead he’d gotten from Hunter’s Rest. He popped the cork on the bottle and took a long draw from it then turned his attention to the road. “Where are we headed and how long will it take to get there?”

“Embershard Mine,” Aeron answered. “It’s about a couple hours on foot. It’s not far from Riverwood.”

“You say that like I should know where Riverwood is. I’m not from here, kid.”

Aeron grinned, “You don’t have to know where Riverwood is. You just have to keep up. Good enough.” Then the young man took off at a sprint, laughing. “Ha-ha! Call me kid, will ya?”

Rayvin gulped down the last of the mead in the bottle, tossed it aside and took off after the kid, “You little fucker! Just wait till I catch you. I will kick your ass!”

Aeron hooted and hollered while Rayvin spouted obscenities as they raced down the cobblestone lane winding through Falkreath Hold.

***

Dense foliage flanked both sides of the road near a dome shaped, stone structure formed from concentric circles that had been retaken by nature. A worn path cut through the underbrush, leading up to it. A rustling noise followed by an intense buzzing sound that made Rayvin stop in his tracks. Coming out from one of the tree was something to Rayvin’s eyes that had the shape of a female but seemed to be made of wood and was glowing green. It walked upright and flickered in and out of his sight.

He blinked a few times as he drew his Warblade, “What the fuck is that?”

Aeron joined him. “Shit! That’s a Spriggan! Nature spirit! Kill it with fire!”

“I don’t have any fucking fire! Do I look like a fucking mage? Where’s Anders when I really need him? Suck on a fireball, my ass!” Rayvin swung his Warblade at the Spriggan as hard as he possibly could, feeling the blade bite into the creature’s wooden body.

The Spriggan hissed, sending forth a swarm of insects to attack as it lashed out with long thorny claws. He could feel a few stings on his exposed skin. His second strike blocked the claw attack, allowing Aeron to move in from behind with a fist full of fire. The leather clad scout unleashed a fireball at the creature, the flames engulfing it completely.

Rayvin cursed, nimbly dodging out of the way of the blast area.

“Let’s go!” Aeron encouraged, running back towards the cobblestone lane. Rayvin didn’t have to be told twice. He charged after his retreating companion.

At the fork in the road, they headed to the northeast. A crisp spring wind blew across Lake Ilinalta. They hadn’t walked more than a few hundred meters when an arrow whizzed by their heads.

“The fuck?!” Rayvin turned sharply, gazing in the direction he thought it came from. “Everything fucking attacks here!”

At the ready, he drew his Warblade and climbed up an embankment. To his left he saw a small grouping of grave markers as well as two armored bow wielding skeletons marched towards him, shooting arrows at him mechanically. He let out a long loud sigh. “I hate undead!”

With a war cry on his lips, he charged them, reducing both of them to nothing but dusty old bones with one whirlwind swipe of his mighty blade. He picked through their remains, finding a few trinkets among the rotten armor.

Aeron joined him soon after. “I don’t know if you’re into alchemy, but the purple flowers growing around the graves are called nightshade. It makes a great poison. Nightshade extract. Or they can be sold to an alchemy shop for a good price.”

Rayvin looked at the young man thoughtfully. “You don’t say.” He shrugged and plucked the half dozen nightshade blossoms and stowed them in his pack. “Let’s get on with it.”

Further down alongside the lake, a large spider scuttled out, spitting at them as they passed. The cold venom clung to Rayvin’s armor causing him to curse. He was really getting tired of this place and he hadn’t even been here long. It made him homesick for the gangs they used to encounter in Kirkwall on any given night. He pulled his Warblade and made short work of it, obliterating the creepy crawler to bits. “Fucking hate spiders!”

Not far from the now dead spider, Rayvin spied a well worn path leading up a small hill to his right and noticed the tops of some standing stones. It piqued his interest. Veering from the road, he headed up the path. Before him was an altar of sorts. Skeletal remains rested upon it while the same purple nightshade flowers he’d picked at the graves near the lake bloomed at the base of the pillars. A crackle of magic drew his attention to the dark robed person standing on the far side of the altar, lightning arcing between their outstretched hands.

“Whoa! Hold that spell!” Rayvin had spent enough time around mages to have a healthy respect for it. While he had no fear of magic, had always been fascinated by it, that didn’t mean he relished fighting a mage. Blood magic was one thing. The practice was abhorrent and those who wielded such magic made it worse for those who did not. He wasn’t even sure such magic existed here. “I mean you no harm. Just exploring. Didn’t know this was your camp.”

The mage lowered his hands, cancelling the charged spell. “Be on your way,” he replied tersely.

Rayvin rolled his eyes and advanced two steps closer to the altar. It put him close enough to catch a glimpse of a mage beneath the hood he wore. His facial features were angular. Deep red irises peered out from almond shaped eyes, but the most unique aspect about the man before him was the shade of his skin. It was the color of dark thunderclouds right before a storm. Could this be one of the Dunmer – a dark elf – that Amariel had told him about?

“I will. Mind if I grab a few of the nightshade?” Rayvin stepped up to the altar, perusing its contents. The skeletal remains were not the only thing laid upon its surface. There was a book, a bloody skull, a bowl of blood, an odd phallic shaped blue crystal and two smaller pink crystalline cylinders. Herbs were scattered around another bowl which was full of other ingredients. From what he could make out they all looked like plants. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but it didn’t seem like the mage was up to anything good.

Aeron joined him. “We might want to leave.”

“Why?”

“Unless you’d rather be the necromancer’s next victim,” the young man huffed and tugged on Hawke’s arm. “It’s none of our business.”

“You might want to listen to the smart one,” the dark elf mage flashed a creepy smile. Rayvin rolled his eyes and shook his head. Mentally he began to count to five, telling himself the elf wasn’t worth getting worked up over.

One.
Just grab the fucking flowers.
Two.
This really isn’t any of my business.
Three.
He’s really not worth it.
Four.
Don’t need to stomp his face into the dirt.
Five.
Ah, fuck it. Who am I kidding?

Rayvin reached for his Warblade as he leapt up onto the altar, yanking it from his back and  swinging it in an arc. The heavy blade connected with the mage’s neck, cleaving his head clean off his shoulders. His body slumped to the ground as the head flew through the air, landing at the base of one of the standing stones. “Ha! Eat steel, fucker!”

Aeron groaned loudly from behind Rayvin. “You really didn’t need to do that. We could have walked away.”

“He insulted me.” Rayvin kicked at the skeletal remains off the altar’s surface, scattering the bones and the other items the mage had gathered for this ritual. He made short work of grabbing all the nightshade blooms, the three odd crystals and the book. He then searched the mage’s body, finding a glass dagger, a ring, an amulet, a circlet and a heavy pouch of gold.

“You’re seriously looting the dead?”

“Hell yeah, he’s dead. He’s not taking it with him to whatever afterlife he’s headed to. Besides, I need money. Food and booze don’t come free.”

Aeron pinched the bridge of his nose, cursing the headache that was forming behind his eyes. “The mine is maybe another mile or so away. Let’s just get moving and get this over with.”

They traveled away from the lake as it emptied into the White River, flowing towards the small town of Riverwood. At the top of the hill they encountered three bandits in a small camp. Aeron had been all for continuing on towards the mine. They had delayed enough so far. Not Rayvin, though. He charged into the camp as a couple arrows flew at him, meeting a green-skinned male with short tusks protruding out of its jowls head-on.

Their weapons clashed, the Warblade striking a heavy blow against the iron warhammer the other warrior wielded. He could feel the impact in his arms. A feral grin crossed his face. This had the makings of a good fight. Drawing his blade back, he dodged to the left, avoiding the attack of a second bandit wielding a war axe. He spun and with a pulverizing kick, drove the second bandit backwards a few feet, allowing him to cleave the man’s head from his shoulders.

On the downswing, he twisted the sword to the flat edge of the blade, swinging fiercely, and connected with the first bandit's shoulder. A deep guttural hiss of pain issued forth from the bandit’s lips as the sounds of bones snapping filled the air. Rayvin swung a second time with the same intensity and hit him again, knocking him off its feet. As the bandit stumbled and fell to the ground, Rayvin pounced, pinning the tusked warrior to the ground as he drove his Warblade through the bandit’s chest, eliciting a high pitched bellow of agony from him. Rayvin yanked the sword out and slammed the point of the blade in again, this time right through the heart. Blood spewed from the green-skinned bandit’s mouth as well as the chest wounds. He gurgled as death took him.

The twang of a bow and the hiss of an arrow in flight drew his attention to the last bandit. This one had retreated the treeline on the far side of the camp. A female with brown skin wearing hide armor nocked another arrow in her bow, firing at him as he charged towards her. Her aim on this shot was true as it struck his upper thigh. He hissed, snapping the arrow shaft. She fired again, but missed as Rayvin zigzagged out of the arrow’s path. As he reached her, he swung his Warblade in a wide sweeping arc, opening a deep, yet fine line that ran from her right shoulder blade to the lower left hip, blood soaking the filthy hides she wore. She went down with a gurgle. To make sure she didn’t get back up, he lopped off her head.

With the bandits dead, it gave Rayvin time to survey the camp. Three hide tents surrounded a large campfire. A tree stump separated the second and third tent while a tanning rack sat on the opposite of the third. Upon the stump sat a small keg, a small satchel, a couple wooden platters with the remains of a meal on each and a couple coin purses. Searching the tents, Rayvin found a book, another pouch of coins and a black robe.

The coin purses he stowed in his pack along with the book. Inside the satchel he discovered more coin and a gold necklace. He added the satchel to his pack and proceeded to loot the bodies of the fallen bandits. None of them had much of value, but he did find a few coins on each. He also took the iron war hammer, the war axe, a couple daggers and a bow that was made was forged from the same metal as the daggers. Rayvin had never seen anything like it, but he figured a blacksmith could tell him what it was.

With that taken care of, Rayvin turned his attention to the next pressing matter. He knew he’d have to take care of the arrow sticking out of his thigh before it festered. Striding back to the road where Aeron awaited him with an exasperated expression on his face, Rayvin growled as he grabbed the young man by the throat and delivered a hard punch to his face, bloodying his nose.

Aeron cried out indignantly at the surprise attack, attempting to break free, but Rayvin’s strength was far greater than his own. “What in Oblivion was that for?”

The words barely left his lips before he felt himself being hoisted up and slammed down against the ground.

Rayvin tightened the grip on Aeron’s throat as he reached down and yanked out the arrow in his thigh, calling upon his Reaver abilities to drain some of the life essence in Aeron’s blood to heal himself. He let go as soon as he felt his thigh wound close. “That’s for not helping me, fucker!”

Aeron groaned as he rolled into a fetal position, feeling light headed from whatever Hawke had done to him. He wasn’t sure if this day could get any worse, especially since they hadn’t even made it to their destination. The young guard staggered to his feet, wiping the blood from his nose with the back of his hand. “Then you shouldn’t have charged off into their camp! Don’t be so quick to fight or kill everything in your path. It’s no wonder you ended up in jail. I definitely see more in your future.”

Rayvin shot the kid a pissed off glare. “And I see an early grave in yours if you keep running your mouth.”

Aeron shook his head. What a typical response, but he had expected it. “You don’t scare me.”

“You should be scared, kid. I’ve seen things, fought creatures you can’t even imagine, been to places you can’t even comprehend and lived through battles that would kill a lesser man.” He quickly began to work the buckles that held the breastplate of his armor in place. Once he’d removed it, he shrugged out of his underarmor until he had stripped down to bare skin, exposing a chest full of tattoos and scars. Pointing to an area of his midsection, he said, “See this? I have a matching scar in the same spot on my back. I earned it defending my city in single combat against an invading warlord and survived. He’s dead. I was named Champion. I’ve seen more war and battle in the last ten years than you will ever see. Don’t tell me I shouldn’t be so quick to fight. You live for the fight when it’s all you have left.”

***

In a bend at the bottom of the hill stood three standing stones carved with stylized designs. “What are those?” Rayvin asked.

“The Guardian Stones. Three of the many ancient standing stones that dot Skyrim’s landscape. I think these ones are the Warrior, Mage and Thief stones. It is said that touching the stones and activating the powers held within will guide you to greatness.”

Rayvin rubbed his chin, contemplating the younger man’s words. He didn’t need a stone to lead him to greatness. He’d long since tasted such a thing. “Been there, done that.”

“The mine is close by. I’ll scout ahead.”

Rayvin waited at the standing stones, letting Aeron scout the mine entrance. He fished into his pack, finding another bottle of mead he’d gotten at Hunter’s Rest. He wasn’t fond of mead, but it would suffice. What he wouldn’t give to be back in the Hanged Man, sharing a bottle of whiskey with Isabela, even if Corff’s best was far from being anything good. That never mattered. It was the company, the camaraderie. That had really mattered. Now it was gone and he was alone. If only he could turn back the hands of time. Looking back those days seemed simpler. There had been fights and chaos, but nothing that they couldn’t handle because they all stuck together. He cursed under his breath and drained the bottle, tossing it into the weeds. If only. Those words would haunt him until his dying day.

He shook the morose thoughts from his head. Regrets and all the what ifs and if onlys were of no use and would not help him. He couldn’t afford to get stuck in the past, not here. Too much was at stake. He still needed to find a way home. Then he would deal with everything else. For now, focus on the day to day.

Live for the fight.

Aeron pulled him from his thoughts when he returned. “There was a guard at the entrance of the mine, but I’ve taken care of him. I scouted a short distance inside the mine and disabled a rock trap. I heard two bandits talking so I thought I’d come back. We should be able to take them by surprise if we’re quick and quiet about it.”

“I like it,” Rayvin said, nodded his head in agreement. “I’m surprised they didn’t have more defenses than a guard and a trap. Sounds rather sloppy to me.”

On the way into the mine, Rayvin stopped long enough to loot the guard that Aeron had felled. He grinned as he realized it was a Khajiit. He still couldn’t get over the existence of cat people in this world. A part of him loathed the fact that Aeron had to kill this one, but it had chosen to walk this path, just as he had to walk his own. One day he hoped to meet one outside of the field of battle, to have the chance to talk to one and learn of its culture. That was neither here nor there and not a concern for this moment. Today he had a task to complete.

Once inside the mine, they slipped quietly down the dark slope, maneuvering passed the disabled trap to the next cavern. Two bandits argued near a blazing fire over what sounded like something trivial to Rayvin. As he and Aeron reached the wooden plank bridge spanning the pool of water, Aeron drew his bow, aiming an arrow at the neck of the bandit nearest to them. He fired, watching as the arrow hit its mark, sinking into the neck of its intended target.

As the bandit collapsed, he was already firing a second arrow at the remaining bandit. It too hit its mark and the second bandit crumpled alongside the first.

“Sharpshooter, eh?” Rayvin remarked. “If you were a bit shorter, you’d remind me of my best friend, Varric. He’s about oh… this tall.” He held his hand about mid-torso.

Aeron flashed a skeptical look at Hawke. “He’s only that tall? You’re full of shit.”

Rayvin chuckled, “Maker’s truth, he’s a dwarf. A short man. He makes up for his height in other ways.”

“If you say so.” Aeron was still skeptical, but he let it go. He just wanted to get this over with and be done with it. “If you’re going to loot their bodies, do so now. Otherwise, it’d probably be wise to toss them in the water.”

“We could. Or it might be better for me to loot them and then place them in their bedrolls. Make anyone who comes this way think they’ve dozed off on the job. Make it look like nothing is out of the ordinary. Trust me. I’ve done this before.”

Rayvin looted the two bodies of anything valuable, which amounted to a couple pouches of coins, a few precious gems, a couple lockpicks, a dagger each and their weapons. He settled them one by one into the bedrolls, posing them in believable sleeping positions, and covered them with furs.

Moving on, he looted the next area, finding more coins, a bottle of wine and a lever that lowered the drawbridge leading further into the mine. Crossing the drawbridge, they crept down a narrow tunnel, though Rayvin had to admit Aeron was far more adept at stealth.

Around the corner sat a bored looking female with a mohawk in front of a steel gate. Her armor looked marginally better than the bandits they’d encountered before her. It was made of steel and covered her completely. She guarded what Rayvin guessed could be the bandit’s treasure room. He could make out a few racks of serviceable weapons, a coin purse or two, barrels, and a large chest.

Their advantage lie in not having been detected yet. She hadn’t given any indication that she knew either of them were there. It gave Rayvin the opportunity to move as close as he could before she realized he was on her.

She lurched from her chair, drawing her sword and shield just as Rayvin swung the Warblade at her. She managed to get her shield up in time to block his strike before making a counterattack of her own as she jabbed her sword at him. Rayvin hissed as the tip of her blade penetrated a seam in his armor. It was a lucky hit. One she wouldn’t have the chance to repeat.

Drawing the Warblade back, he whirled it around, catching her unprotected side on the upswing. The powerful blow staggered her, making her cry out in pain, and allowed him to press his attack. With a pulverizing kick to her midsection, he forced her against the wall, slamming the blade of his sword into her, pinning her where she stood. When he yanked it out, she slumped to the ground. His next swing finished her off.

He looted her body, finding a key to the door she guarded. Once he opened the gate, he made a cursory check of the treasure the bandits had stored here. The chest held some good pieces, but he figured there had to be more elsewhere. Once all the bandits were dead, he’d come back to raid this room.

They crept down another tunnel, following it until it opened up into a much larger cavern. To the left were two small living areas with bedrolls. A group of three bandits idled about a small table, playing a game of cards, completely unaware that they were being watched. Down on the cavern floor, another bandit worked a forge while a second patrolled a wooden plank catwalk strung across a pool of water. Rayvin couldn’t tell whether or not if there were others, but he had to assume if they had an archer patrolling the upper ledge, that more bandits could be found up there as well.

“I’d say maybe six, maybe seven total,” he guessed in a hushed tone. “We could possibly take out those three at the table with a fireball. Can you cast that again? It’ll alert everyone that they’re under attack, but it should take those three out of the battle.”

Aeron nodded. “I like the fireball idea. I can do that. The others are spread out enough that it’ll take them a small amount of time to reach us. That will give us time to mount a defense. Give you time to run that one down. I can focus on the archer on the catwalk. Once their archer is down and provided there aren’t any more, I can provide you with cover fire.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Rayvin flashed one of his lopsided grins then pressed against one of the mines structural pillars well out of the blast range of the fireball. He had seen what spells like fireballs could do in small enclosed spaces. Anders had been very adept at fire magic. Rayvin had seen him cast it with devastating effects in places like Darktown or the Undercity.

Rayvin gave the ready signal, watching as Aeron produced the ball of fire between his hands and sent it flying at the unsuspecting bandits playing cards. The spell exploded with a tremendous BOOM, catching the bandits in the fiery blast. Screams of the damned echoed through the cavern. The one bandit who survived the initial blast leapt from his seat, racing toward the pool of water in an effort to extinguish the flames licking at his flesh. He didn’t make it as Rayvin stepped from his hiding spot and cut him down with the swing of his sword.

As expected the explosion of the spell brought the remaining bandits on high alert. The female archer on the catwalk immediately sprung to action, firing an arrow at Rayvin. The shot went wide, sinking into a wooden support beam. Aeron reacted with a shot of his own, striking the archer squarely in the chest. She cried out in pain, but it didn’t stop her from firing a second time. This time came closer to Aeron, missing him by a few feet as he dodged back into the shadows.

Rayvin, however, wasted no time charging the bandit who had been at the forge. This one seemed to have better armor than anyone they’d encountered so far and wielded two war axes. He figured this was the leader of the gang here in the mine.  He leapt into the air, the Warblade poised overhead, and brought it crashing down against the leader’s shoulder. Rayvin landed on his feet, drawing the sword back, ready for his next strike.

Hissing in pain, the bandit leader launched his attack. He swung his war axes at Rayvin, but the former Champion dodged away quickly, rolling to the side. The bandit charged at him, a growl on his lips. As Rayvin found his feet, he nimbly sidestepped the charge, which carried the bandit past him. With a chuckle, Rayvin planted a foot on the bandit’s rear, and gave him a hard shove.

His opponent whirled as he regained his equilibrium and swung at Rayvin again. He ducked the swipe of both war axes, bringing his greatsword in contact with his legs. He brought his Warblade up short, hacking and slicing, watching as blood spurted from ragged cuts upon his opponent’s upper body.

The two combatants circled each other, looking for an opening. Rayvin struck first, making an attack that the leader parried with a swing of his axe. He seized the opening his attack left to strike a slashing hit to the leader’s torso, who let out a hiss and pressed his attack as dual strikes of the war axes came at him. His blows landed, slipping into weak points in his Champion’s armor and slashing the flesh beneath it. Rayvin growled at the pain, but relied on his Reaver abilities to drain the life essence from his foe as he removed one hand from the pommel of his greatsword and grabbed hold of the other man’s throat. This weakened the bandit leader and bolstered Rayvin’s blood rage.

Once Rayvin let go, he landed a deep cut to the bandit’s chest again, and hissed in frustration. That one was meant for his neck , he mentally chided himself. He spun and swung again. Ducking and rolling out of the way, Rayvin feinted for his torso. Though disoriented from the loss of blood, the bandit brought his axes low in an attempt to block Rayvin, but the former Champion proved to be too swift for him. Bringing the Warblade up, he whirled about, sweeping around his guard and slicing his throat wide open. The war axes clattered uselessly to the floor at his feet as the bandit leader gasped around the blood welling up in his mouth. It splattered down the front of his armor and onto the dirt floor as he fell in a thud.

The deadly dance had come to an end.

***

Rayvin ran up the wooden walkway leading to the upper ledges of the cave. He searched the area thoroughly, not finding any more bandits. If there had been any, he figured they must have fled after seeing what had become of their brethren. There truly was no honor among thieves, he inwardly scoffed. Turning he saw Aeron standing near him and grinned. “I say it’s time to strip this place of every bit of loot we can find. Whattaya say?”

Aeron pursed his lips thoughtfully. “You know if you haul it back to Falkreath, Jarl Siddgeir might decide to confiscate it and consider it part of paying off your fine.”

Rayvin’s eyes narrowed and he growled. “The only thing that slimy bastard said was to kill all the bandits. He never said I couldn’t keep any of the spoils. So if you know something I don’t, you sure as fuck had better come clean.”

Aeron backed away, holding his hands up. “The only order I was given was to accompany you and make sure the task is complete. I have no hidden agenda. The Jarl, however, isn’t always known for keeping his word. You should have figured it out by now that he’s corrupt, taking bribes from bandits. This lot isn’t the only ones he’s allowing to operate. If they cease to pay him, he has them eliminated.”

“Most politicians are corrupt, kid. It’s the nature of the beast.” Rayvin stated. “You said we’re close to Riverwood. I’ll sell it there instead. You just have to keep your mouth shut.”

Aeron sighed, knowing a warning when he heard one. He didn’t want a repeat of what happened at the last bandit camp. “Riverwood is a mile down the road from here. It’s part of Whiterun Hold and not Falkreath Hold so there’s less chance of it getting back to Siddgeir.”

Rayvin collected a wheelbarrow from the exterior of the mine and filled it with all the loot he could find within the mine. Armor, weapons, coin, gems, pieces of jewelry, crystalline cylinders that Aeron identified as soul gems, and books. In a crude kitchen area on the upper ledge, Rayvin found a few fresh kills, hares and pheasants. He quickly dressed them and began to roast each over the open fire. Once he’d eaten, he washed his meal down with a bottle of wine he’d found. The remaining bottles of ale he’d found he stowed in the wheelbarrow with the rest of the loot.

***

The talk to the town in Riverwood was of the Dragonborn, the legendary hero with the power of ‘The Voice.’ The Dragonborn had been summoned to High Hrothgar by the Greybeards. Such a thing had not happened since Tiber Septim, the founder of the Empire. Yet no one really seemed to know who the Dragonborn was. It led to some wild tales being told in the tavern. Most claimed the Dragonborn was Talos reborn or perhaps Ysgramor, having heard the Dragonborn had joined the Companions of Jorrvaskr.

With Aeron’s help, Rayvin sold almost everything he had looted during the course of the day to either the blacksmith or the dry goods store for a fair price. Alvor, the blacksmith, seemed particularly happy to deal once he learned they had taken care of the bandits in the nearby mine.

Rayvin kept a couple of the pieces for himself. The glass dagger, the amulet which had been identified as an amulet of Kynareth and the books. One of them had to do with conjuration magic, the second was a storybook titled Night Falls on Sentinel and the third was a spell book containing a spell called clairvoyance.

At the inn he paid for a private room, not that he intended to stay the night, but for the purpose of counting all the coins he had. It was nearly as much wealth as he had carried on his person at any given time while he lived Kirkwall.

He held up one of the gold coins. On one side was the profile of a man and the inscription ‘The Empire is law. The Law is sacred.’ On the flip side was a dragon as well as the inscription ‘Praise be Akatosh and all the divines.’ “Who does this depict?”

“Tiber Septim, the reason our currency is called septims and the dragon is Akatosh, the chief Divine. He’s the greatest of the Eight. You’ve never heard of this?” Aeron’s brows drew close together in disbelief.

“Not from here, kid. And before you ask, it’s a long fucking story so let’s leave it at that.” Rayvin’s tone made it clear he wouldn’t discuss it any further.

Aeron opened his mouth then promptly snapped it shut. He didn’t want punched. He could see that gleam in Rayvin’s eyes that promised a world of pain if he pressed the issue. After a few thoughtful moments, he finally conceded. “Have it your way.”

“I always do.” Rayvin raked a hand through his shaggy black mane then turned his attention back to the plethora of wealth in front of him. It took him awhile but by the time he had counted the final coin he had over five thousand septims. Gathering the coins up into pouches, he nestled them among the bottles of ale and wine he had found and kept before leaving the inn behind. Returning to the dry goods store, he made a few purchases. He needed a larger pack, and some clothing. Nothing here was like what he wore when he lived in Kirkwall, not that he had a need for silks in the wilderness. Sturdy tunics and trousers would suffice for here. Good leather boots, too.

On a whim he bought the few spell books the merchant had in stock. Rayvin wasn’t certain he would ever learn to cast these spells like he had learned the healing spell Amariel had taught him, but he could try. At least being here in this world opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for him that he had never before imagined. If only Anders could see this world or better yet, Cullen. He scrunched up his face, giving those thoughts a mental kick.

It was never going to happen.

He turned to Aeron. “We should head back, huh?”

***

By the time Rayvin had finished his business in Riverwood, night had fallen. He and Aeron agreed to stay at the inn, sharing the room that had been rented earlier and set out to return to Falkreath as soon as the sun was up. Rayvin certainly didn’t mind. He spent the evening drinking quietly, but not getting too drunk and listening to the bard sing. He didn’t want a repeat of what had happened in Falkreath. He did, however, ask Sven, the bard, if he would take a break and lend him his lute while he performed a song from where he was from. Sven reluctantly handed his lute after both Alvor and Hod both expressed the desire to hear something new.

Hawke settled into the spot vacated by Sven and began to strum the haunting melody of the song. He didn’t know how well it would go over but it suited his mood. That was all that mattered to him.

I feel sun/Through the ashes in the sky.
Where's the one/Who'll guide us into the night?

What's begun/Is the war that will/Force this divide.
What's to come/Is fire and the end of time.

I am the one/Who can recount/What we've lost.
I am the one/Who will live on.

I have run/Through the fields/Of pain and sighs.
I have fought/To see the other side.

I am the one/Who can recount/What we've lost.
I am the one/Who will live on.

A smattering of applause followed his performance. He took a bow and thanked the crowd then bought everyone a round. While they drank, he headed back to his room and sought his bed.

As planned Hawke and Aeron set out at daybreak. The return trip to Falkreath was dull in comparison to the journey to the mine. Only a couple wolves dashed out of the Pine Forest to attack them and they were quickly defeated.

Once they had made it back to Falkreath, they walked side by side up the road through town leading to the Jarl’s Longhouse. As they had passed Lod’s Smithy, a pretty female with braided blonde hair smiled and waved at Aeron enthusiastically. The young guard waved back, his eyes blazing with happiness at the sight of her.

“Who’s that?” Rayvin asked, despite the fact he already had a good idea of what the kid’s answer would be.

“Marna, my betrothed.”

“Do yourself a favor, kid,” The corner of Rayvin’s mouth quirked up as he slowly perused the woman in question. “Get a dog instead.”

A cry of outrage slipped from Aeron’s lips as his face turned crimson. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Rayvin shrugged nonchalantly, his blue eyes sparkling, and continued on his way. If the kid was smart, he’d figure it out. If not, well, that was none of his business.  

Jarl Siddgeir corrected his lazy posture as the duo walked into the longhouse. He pushed himself to his feet, his face dark with indignation. “You should have been back yesterday. How long does it take to exterminate bandits? As long as it took you better hope they are.”

Aeron took the lead in the matter. “Yes, my Jarl, all of them are dead.”

The jarl’s mouth curved into a smile. “Excellent. Teach them to stop paying me.” He settled back onto his throne, waving a hand of dismissal at Aeron, and focused his full attention on Hawke. “You may consider your debt to Falkreath paid. Let this be a lesson to you to obey my laws. You are free to go.”

Rayvin had one thing left to do before he left this wretched little town behind. He still needed to get that ring from Sinding, but for now, he planned on spending the day at the inn. Hopefully this time he’d actually get to sleep in the room he paid for.

***

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen: Ill Met By Moonlight

The townsfolk gave him a wide berth in the inn. No one wanted to speak to him or come near him. The only person willing to talk to him was the barmaid, Narri and that was only to serve him something more to drink. He had tried to make amends with the innkeeper, Valga for his behavior, but she didn’t seem too eager on accepting his apology. Oh, she accepted his coin for a room, though. That suited Hawke just fine. None of it really mattered. He wasn’t much in the mood for company.

Or so he tried to convince himself.

It made him miss the nights in the Hanged Man that much more: the games of Wicked Grace, Varric’s storytelling, the whole gang really. Those days were gone and living in the past would do him no good. It didn’t stop him from obsessing over it and it certainly didn’t stop him from sinking deeper into bottle after bottle. Here, though, there was no one to tell him to knock it off, that he was drinking too much. No Aveline to give him shit about it and no Anders to take him home and tuck him in.

He quietly staggered into the room he had rented and fell into the bed. The stress of recent events and the amount of alcohol he had consumed made him drowsy and he settled into a deep sleep.

When morning came, he woke with a headache so intense it felt like Aveline had taken a battering ram to his skull repeatedly. He groaned loudly. It had been a long time since he felt like this. Holding his head, he sat upright and grabbed hold of the bed in an attempt to shake off the vertigo that assailed him. Ughhh… so far so good.

He forced himself to his feet and leaned against the wall, combating another wave of dizziness. The room spun around him. “Fuck,” he mumbled. He hadn’t thought the amount of alcohol he’d consumed was out of the ordinary for him. Therefore, it must have been the quality. This had to be much stronger brew than back home. That was the only thing that made sense to him.

It made him long for Anders’ healing skills. No matter how fucked up drunk Rayvin had gotten, Anders always took care of him. That spell he used to take away the hangover and ease the headaches would be invaluable at the moment, but that was not to be. No use wishing.

Hawke pushed away from the wall and walked slowly into the common room of the inn. The inn was mostly deserted. Valga was sweeping the floor behind her counter. Two older men sat on the far side of the room, conversing quietly between themselves. Taking a seat on one of the barstools, Rayvin motioned for Valga, as he didn’t see Narri anywhere.

“You wouldn’t happen to have anything bland to eat?” He grimaced as his stomach churned.

“I have some fresh bread and cheese. I also have some porridge.” Her reply was polite, but from her tone Rayvin could tell she’d rather not have to deal with him at all.

“I’ll take a bowl of the porridge and thanks.” He then paid her for it.

Serving him the bowl along with a small tureen of honey, she said, “I hope you’re not going to cause any more trouble.”

Rayvin smirked at her. “Trouble is my middle name, but no.”

“Good. You can clean up the mess you left in that corner last night once you’re done eating. I run an inn, not a flophouse.”

Rayvin glanced over his shoulder at the chair where he’d spent a good portion of the previous day. Littered on the wooden plank floor were a half dozen or so wine bottles as well as a few mead bottles. No wonder he felt like shit. “Don’t worry. I’ll clean it up.”

She nodded her head and returned to her task of cleaning. Rayvin could feel her eyes upon him. She was watching him closely. Once he was finished with his meal, he gathered up all the bottles and set them on her counter. Then he headed out of the inn.

His next stop was the Falkreath Jail. It was housed in the lower level of the Barracks. The barracks were empty when he walked through them and headed down the stairs to the cells. A lone guard dozed in a chair near the exit. His presence didn’t concern Rayvin. He planned on doing this quick. Get in, get the ring, and get out.

Sinding met him at his cell door. “Never thought I’d see you again.”

“The Jarl sent me to do his bidding.” Rayvin pulled a face. “I’ve decided to get the hell out of this fucking place, but I thought I could still help you.”

“You still want to help me? Here. Take the ring. I can’t stand the sight of this wretched thing anymore. Seek out the stag. Slay it and find favor with the Lord of the Hunt. Luck be to you.” Sinding bade him as he handed over the silver wolf’s head ring. “Should our paths ever cross again, I will remember your kindness. Farewell.”

Then the most curious thing happened. Sinding began to morph and change. Where a man once stood, there was now a beast. It looked upon Rayvin with large reddish-orange eyes before it started to scale the stone walls to make its escape. The transformation was both fascinating and terrifying to behold. To witness such a thing… it made him more resolute that he wanted that for his own.

He left the jail and barracks before the sleeping guard knew anything was afoot. Searching about he discovered where Sinding had escaped from and wondered if it had gone unnoticed. It had not. Several patrolling guards had seen Sinding in his werewolf form running for the city gates. The creature had gotten away, but not before injuries had been sustained. A few guardsmen had also been wounded. The beast escaped into the forest.

Rayvin stopped at Lod’s Smithy, acting as if he wasn’t aware of what had just happened. The blacksmith was busy at his forge, shaping a length of steel into a blade. “Mind if I ask you a question?”

Lod glanced up, “What do you want to know?”

“Big game hunting. You wouldn’t happen to know of any good spots around here?” All he needed was a general idea where to start hunting for the stag. Sinding hadn’t been very forthcoming with details. All he knew was the Pine Forest.

“I suppose it would depend on the type of game you’re hunting, friend. If it’s bear or elk, I’d say you could try your luck anywhere between here and the ruins of Helgen. When you head out of town, turn left at the crossroads. Be careful, though. I’ve heard bandits have taken residence in and around Pinewatch.”

A grin crossed Rayvin’s face. “Bandits don’t concern me. I thank you for the information.”

“You’re welcome. Keep in mind that I pay good coin for pelts, especially if you bring me some bear pelts. Usually I buy them from Valdr, but I haven’t seen him in a while.” Lod remarked. “I last heard he and his friends were hunting bear to the northwest. You’ll probably be headed to the northeast, but if you’d be willing to keep an eye out for him, it’d be much appreciated.”

“I can do that.” Rayvin bade the blacksmith farewell shortly thereafter and headed in the direction he had suggested. He chose to leave the town the same way he watched Sinding escape, through the exit near the mill.

After a short walk, he reached the crossroads and turned left as the blacksmith had suggested. Leaving the road behind, he headed up into the forest, knowing he wouldn’t find the stag in question standing alongside the road. It took him a few hours of tracking, and of getting lost, getting turned around and swearing he’d passed the same damn tree at least three times, but finally he stumbled upon a trickling stream that emptied into a small pool of clear water.

At the edge of the pool, having a drink of water, was his quarry, a magnificent white stag with a tremendous rack of horns on its head. Rayvin halted and pulled out the bow Amariel had given him. As he drew back the bowstring, ready to fire, the stag lifted its head and let out a shrill howl. Then it sprang into a run.

Rayvin fired his arrow at it as it fled. The shot went wide, but that did not stop him from pursuing. He gave chase, firing as he ran. After a few lucky shots, the stag slowed enough for Rayvin to take one last shot. He nocked the arrow, pulling it back as far as he could, and steadied his aim. Then he let it fly. The stag sprang into the air as the arrow sank into its neck before falling to the ground as its legs buckled beneath it.

The stag was down, but he wasn’t sure what was going to happen now. Rayvin had never dealt with a Daedric Lord before. He cautiously approached the stag’s carcass, kneeling down beside it. He ran a hand across its white fur, marveling at the texture of it. It was soft and luxurious. Shameful really that he had had to slay it, but he had agreed to help someone. How did he always get himself into these situations?

The air crackled around him and he felt a surge of power. Glancing up, a ghostly visage of the creature he had slain stepped into view. A cry slipped from his lips and he scrambled to his feet, clutching his weapon in hand.

“Well met, hunter. Why have you summoned me here?”

Rayvin’s eyes grew large. He could hear a voice, but it didn’t seem to be coming from the creature. It seemed to be resonating from within his soul. He opened his mouth to speak, grasping for words, before snapping his lips shut again. This was the weirdest thing ever. Schooling his features, he started over. “I am seeking Hircine. Is that you?”

“I am the spirit of the hunt, just one glimpse of the glorious stalker that your kind calls Hircine.”

Rayvin removed the ring from the pouch he had stored it in and held it out in the palm of his hand. “If you are indeed Hircine, I have been asked to return this to you.”

The ghostly Aspect of Hircine shook its great rack of horns. “You must first perform a service for my glory before I will consider what you ask.”

Rayvin scoffed in disgust, “Why must everyone always want something? Hawke do this. Hawke do that. Why can’t it be it for once be, sure no problem .”

“The one who stole my ring has fled to what he believes is his sanctuary. Just as a bear climbs a tree to escape the hunt, but only ends up trapping himself. Seek out this rogue shifter. Tear the skin from his body, and make it an offering to me.”

The disgust deepened. “You want me to kill him? For a curse you laid upon him. That’s wrong and I will have no part in it.”

“There is no retribution in the hunt. It is not vengeance I seek, but the blood course of a living hunt.  Others who seek my favor will take up the great hunt and will bring me his skin.”

Rayvin’s eyes narrowed as heat flushed his cheeks. He could feel his rage building. “Just where is this great hunt? This sanctuary he’s fled to?”

“A sacred place known to many hunters as Bloated Man’s Grotto.” The apparition faded from view and Rayvin was left standing alone.

Sitting down on a nearby outcropping of rock, he pulled out the map he had been given at Hunter’s Rest and looked it over. If this place was sacred to hunters, he surmised it just might be marked on the map. His hunch was good, for on the north side of the lake was a small marking with the word grotto. It looked like he could follow the road back the way he came, passing by Falkreath, heading west at the lake. He’d pass by the mill again and come out near the main road he’d traveled out of the Reach, only instead of continuing west toward the Reach, he’d turn in a bit of an easterly direction toward Whiterun. The grotto was most likely hidden off the beaten path.

He figured it would take him the better part of the afternoon to get there. What he wouldn’t give for a horse.

***

Rayvin made good time on the journey toward Bloated Man’s Grotto. Far better than the day before when the destination had been Embershard Mine. He didn’t feel the need to pick a fight with everything he encountered. That had more to do with the absence of things to fight. The road was pretty quiet.

At Half-Moon Mill, he stopped, finding a shady spot off the road where he could take a short rest. He munched on an apple while washing it down with some ale. Then he continued on. He passed by the path that led to Hunter’s Rest and for a moment considered a detour to see if Amariel had returned there. Shaking his head he discounted the idea, he doubted she’d want to get involved with anything having to do with a Daedric Lord or hunters chasing a werewolf. His gut told him it wasn’t her thing.

At the next side path he came to a little further down the road, he did stop and veer off course because he could swear he heard someone calling for help. Picking up speed, he jogged in the direction he heard the sound coming from. The calls for help became louder as he got closer and soon he could see a blond haired man wearing brown and white studded leather armor sitting on a blood soaked log.

“Please anyone help! Can anyone hear me?” The man called out again.

Rayvin ran over to him. “I’m here. How badly are you injured?” He knelt down before him, taking stock of the younger man’s wounds. Bloody gashes were torn in the man’s armor, exposing deep wounds.

“Bad. I’d given up hope of ever walking away from here.” The hunter stared at Rayvin through glazed eyes. Sweat poured down his face and his breathing was labored. Rayvin knew if he didn’t do something soon, this man wouldn’t make it. “Tell me you have a potion or know a spell that can help me.”

Digging into his pack, he pulled out one of the healing draughts he had purchased from the dry goods store in Riverwood. This man needed it more than he did. “Here,” Rayvin said as he popped the cork of one and held it to the blond’s lips.

The potion helped immensely, healing the blond hunter’s wounds enough to bring him out of immediate danger. He sighed a breath of relief. “Thank Kynareth for you, stranger. I would have died here if not for you.”

Rayvin gave a half smile and shrugged. “What brings you out here?”

“Name's Valdr. I hunt out of Falkreath. We tracked a bear to this den. Good coin for those pelts. We had the big sow cornered when they showed up. Three of them, out of nowhere. Spriggans. Niels went down before we even knew to run. Ari died just inside. I never even thought the things were real.”

“Spriggans, huh? Best way to kill them is with fire. I’ll see what I can do about that. Do you have anything that can help?”

Valdr shook his head. “I can’t help you there.”

“By the way, my name is Hawke.” Frowning, Rayvin gave him a slow once over, drinking in the sight of the man before him. His blond hair fell to his shoulders with a braid on the left side. He had light green eyes and tanned skin that suggested he spent most of his time outside. He was a hunter after all. A scar ran down his cheek beneath his right eye. He also had a scar in the same place Cullen had on his lip. The sight of that made him stop his perusal and he quickly looked away.

“I can't just walk away. Not with my friends' bodies in there, being torn apart by those beasts.” Valdr continued as he gazed toward the cave entrance.

The rational part of Rayvin’s mind was telling him to walk away, to not get involved. He took another good look at the hunter before him. There were quite a few similarities to Cullen and that made it harder to walk away. If it were Cullen sitting here, he’d move mountains for him. Rubbing his face, he ignored the warning bells going off in his head. He never listened to reason. Why should he start now?

“If it were my friends, I couldn’t either. Let me help you,” Rayvin said as he opened his pack and searched for a sword he had stored. It was one he found in a Forsworn camp along with the book, The Legend of Red Eagle. He seemed to recall it had a fire enchantment on it which would help immensely against the spriggans. He had been holding onto it until such time he could return to the Reach and locate Rebel’s Cairn.

“You would do that?” Surprise brightened the young hunter’s face. “I am indebted to you. Lead on, friend.”

Rayvin ducked through the cavern entrance, his eyes adjusting to the dim interior. He made his way forward, placing one foot in front of the other cautiously. The cave widened, opening up into a chamber where the path he trod upon split. One branch of it continued straight ahead while the other branch veered to his left, up over an elevated grade. Natural light spilled through a hole in the cavern roof, illuminating the immediate area in an ethereal glow.

A fallen tree made a bridge over the path that continued further into the cave. From somewhere deeper in the cave, Rayvin could hear deep huffing and roaring. No mistaking that being the bear Valdr and his friends had cornered.

On a ledge to his left, a flicker of movement caught his attention and he headed toward it, ready to strike when the spriggan materialized. This one was different from the last one he had faced. It was larger, instead of being green, it had a deep purple and black glow to it. The buzzing of insects filled his ears. He wouldn’t back down from this thing. He had defeated demons, templars and qunari. He would not be bested by a damn nature spirit.

He swung the longsword in his grip at the creature, striking hard as he could. Fire ignited its wooden carapace and he swore he heard it shriek. A swarm of bees surrounded him. He could feel their stings on his exposed flesh, but he ignored it as he struck again and again, never letting up until the creature lay burning at his feet.

On the sunken path below, he could hear the repetitious twang of arrows being shot from a bow at something. Jumping down, he put himself in the path of the charging bear. As it closed in, so close he could feel and smell its hot breath, he dodged the swipe of its massive paw, and slammed his blade into its side. The bear roared as the longsword called Red Eagle’s Fury sank in deep, igniting its fur with flame. An arrow flew by Rayvin, lodging in the bear’s chest.

Yanking the sword back, he swung it again, this time going for the throat area, stabbing deep. Another arrow struck the bear, wounding it further. Rayvin could tell it was badly hurt, but still fighting with everything it had. He dodged another swipe of its claws, and struck it again with his sword. This hit made it stagger and finally it went down, slumping to the ground. Rayvin slit its throat then continued on.

He entered a secondary chamber. This one was larger. There was a fallen tree to his left. The corpse of one of Valdr’s friends rested beside it. This one a man, Niels he presumed. Ari lay dead in the first chamber. A small pool was directly in front of him. A tall pine stood before it. At the rear of the chamber was a ledge, more trees and what looked to be the scattered remains of goods that other hunters must have left behind. Or more likely it was possessions that had been on their bodies when they encountered these spriggans. He didn’t know what need nature spirits had for worldly goods, but it was the only explanation that made sense to him.

He looked back at Valdr who had joined him in the larger chamber. “Where are the other spriggans?”

“The trees,” Valdr said in response warily. His bow was drawn, an arrow nocked in place, ready to fire at anything that moved.

“They hide in the trees and attack when you get too close. How fucking nice of them! It’s a pity I left my axe at home. I’d chop the bloody thing down!” Rayvin strode up to the closest tree, the longsword still in hand.  

Luring out and defeating the remaining spriggans didn’t take much time. Rayvin was glad they were dealt with. He could continue on his way. Valdr also seemed quite pleased that his friends had been avenged and offered Rayvin a dagger that had once been Ari’s, calling it her lucky dagger.

“Look me up whenever you’re in Falkreath. You’ll always be welcome at my door.” Valdr offered a wan smile. “I’ll give them a proper burial before heading back.”

A quick search around the cave netted him a few items, mainly a few pouches of gold. He stowed it in his pack before he headed out and made his way back to the road.

***

After getting lost a few times Rayvin finally made it to Bloated Man’s Grotto. By the time he entered the grotto, Masser has risen high in the sky, shining a blood red. In the first chamber of the grotto, he came across 4 hunters, three were dead and the last was barely hanging on by a thread.

The Khajiit rasped at him, a death rattle in his chest. “The prey is strong. Stronger than the hunters. Bring him down, for the glories of Lord Hircine.” Then the khajiit slumped over as death took him.

The carnage spread around the camp was a testament to the strength of the beast. The other three dead hunters had been ripped to spreads. It wasn’t anything that Rayvin hadn’t witnessed on a battlefield. War was always bloody, but this… this amounted to slaughter. It seemed these hunters had no clue what they had been getting into. This Daedric Lord had sent them to their deaths, all for the glories of a hunt. It sickened him and strengthened his resolve. This was wrong.

Rayvin drew his Warblade and proceeded on. He figured Sinding had to be here somewhere… in werewolf form. He didn’t relish facing him. He wasn’t here to fight him, but would defend himself if need be. Anticipation quickened his heartbeat, sent his blood racing. He had never faced down a werewolf in combat, but he had heard stories. They were fearsome creatures. The stuff of legends back in Ferelden. A beast to be wary of. Their claws were sharp and could tear you to pieces, but it was their bite that you should fear, for if you were bitten, you could find yourself cursed. He couldn’t say whether the old stories were true or not. He’d seen enough in his time to know that sometimes old legends were more than just that.

A narrow side path exited the cavern he was in. He advanced down the path, his eyes on everything. Ahead of him, a jagged rock outcropping jutted skyward. High above it loomed a blood red moon, casting an ominous glow upon the grotto. As he approached it, he noticed movement and slowed.

Climbing onto the rock outcropping was, indeed, Sinding, in werewolf form. “Have you come as these others have, for my skin?” He asked from the rock above. “If that be the case, I can't stop you. Hircine’s will is powerful. I sense hesitation and revulsion from you. You have always been willing to listen. Spare me and I can be a powerful ally for you. I would also promise to never return to civilized life. I know now that I cannot live among people. What say you?”

“How many more hunters are after you? What are their numbers?” Rayvin asked, needing to know what they were up against.

“I can sense another half dozen, maybe more. The bloodlust makes it difficult. Does that mean you’ll aid me?”

“I’ve always been one to fight for the underdog.” The corner of his mouth quirked up. “You and me against all of them… sounds like one hell of a fight to me. I’ve never been one to back down.”

The great beast inclined its head, “Thank the gods. We hunt together!”

Rayvin joined Sinding on the cliff and were soon met by two hunters. From what he could tell, one was a Nord male in steel armor, the other a Khajiit female in leather. The female carried a bow while the Nord had a greatsword strapped to his back. Rayvin motioned for Sinding to take out the Khajiit while he focused on the warrior.

Sinding wasted no time charging at the female. He dodged the arrows she fired at him and when he got close, slapped the bow out of her hands with his paws. He raked her chest, shredding her leather armor with his claws. The next swipe of his claws ripped open her throat, blood sprayed as throughout the clearing as she collapsed at his feet.

The Nord in the steel armor bellowed a war cry and launched himself at Sinding after seeing the Khajiit go down, but Rayvin intercepted him, slamming his Warblade into the man’s midsection with an arcing blow. The sword met steel with a resounding thud that echoed through the grotto. The hunter screamed in pain, though he still managed to deliver a hit of his own with his steel greatsword. The strike clattered off Rayvin’s armor. The intervening strike gave Sinding time to dance out of the way and maneuver into a flanking position. The werewolf’s claws then grazed the Nord, leaving jagged wounds behind on his arm, but ultimately it left an opening for Rayvin, which he was all too happy to exploit.

Swinging the Warblade with all the strength he could muster at the armored foe before him, he whirled it around then brought it down, letting the edge of the blade sank into the hunter’s neck, slicing like a hot knife through butter and lopping off his head. The rest of the body slumped to the ground.

Two hunters were down.

Winding their way through the grotto, Rayvin and Sinding crossed a small stream and encountered three more, an Orc in plain clothes with a bow, another Nord in steel armor with a battleaxe and a Redguard wearing hide armor also with a bow. It was times like these when Rayvin missed fighting with a mage. A well placed fireball worked nicely for crowd control, allowing him or Fenris to clean up whatever was remaining as Varric and Isabela harassed the flank. He didn’t have a mage or access to a fireball. He had to work with what he had, which amounted to a pissed off werewolf as well as his own dislike of this Hircine’s willful machinations that sent hunters to their deaths all in the name of a hunt.

The green skinned Orc was closest to them, firing arrows from his bow in quick succession. One grazed Sinding’s shoulder as he rushed forth toward him. The beast howled, causing the other archer in the clearing to back away. It provoked the Nord, however, who unleashed a battle cry and charged forth with his battleaxe overhead.

Sinding leapt in the air, pouncing upon the Orc. He raked his claws through the flimsy fabric of his clothes and dug deep into his chest while Rayvin slid under the arm holding the bow and drew the Warblade up short, slashing it across the back of his unarmored legs, thusly hamstringing him. As the Orc flopped to the ground, he thrust his blade through his chest, ending him.

Whirling about, he assessed the field of battle. Sinding had engaged the Nord, and the dark skinned archer had skirted the far side of the clearing. Rayvin could see a couple of her arrows embedded in the werewolf’s flesh. It didn’t seem to be causing enough blood loss to slow him down, but she still needed to be neutralized.

Pulling Red Eagle’s Fury from the scabbard on his belt, he hefted it by the pommel and sighted down the blade. Holding it as one would a spear, he launched it through the air, sending it flying at the archer. He had only ever thrown a sword once before and while he didn’t expect it to work, it was a chance he was willing to take. The longsword flew straight, slamming into the chest of the archer. The impact staggered her back against the tree and she slumped to the ground, gurgling as she fell.

Rayvin whirled his way into the battle between the battleaxe wielding Nord and Sinding. He swung his Warblade at the hunter in a furious sweeping motion, arcing it upwards from the hip. It sliced a path through the Nord’s armor diagonally as if it were no more than leather and not steel from his left side obliques to his right shoulder, making him scream in agony. Then Rayvin spun the greatsword in his hands and did a half turn, plunging the blade through the Nord’s gut. He yanked the hilt upwards before he pulled it out and spat on the Nord as he watched his guts spill out.

With a roar that matched Sinding’s, the two raced into the deepest reaches of the grotto. Here he came face to face with another Nord, this one wielding a war axe and a shield. Rayvin lunged at him and the Nord met him head on, bringing his shield up in defense. Rayvin brought the Warblade down in fierce blow that left him staggered. The Nord swiped at Rayvin with his war axe, the sharp blade opening a wound under one of the pauldrons of the Champion’s Armor. Rayvin hissed, calling on his Reaver abilities as he removed a hand from his greatsword long enough to deliver a hard punch to his opponent’s face, bloodying his nose. Then he grabbed a hold of the Nord’s throat and devoured a portion of the Nord’s life energy, healing his few wounds. Bringing his leg up, he delivered a hard kick to the Nord’s midsection, sending his staggering back a few paces. To keep him further disoriented he executed a pommel strike followed by a vicious whirlwind attack, a series of blows that eviscerated the Nord.

In another clearing was another Khajiit carrying a singular dark sword, though she wore hides for armor. Sinding roared and leaped, slapping the sword from her grip. She screamed in terror and tried to flee. Rayvin couldn’t help but chuckle at it. A cat being chased by a dog… well, wolf. It wasn’t long before he caught her, pinning her to the ground. His teeth and claws sundered her armor, rending her chest wide open. It was a sight to see, watching the werewolf rip out her heart and devour it. Rayvin knew such a display might disgust or sicken a lessen man, but after all the shit he’d seen take place on a battlefield, nothing bothered him anymore. It was all a part of the circle of life.

With his focus on Sinding, Rayvin failed to notice the second Khajiit hunter creeping up on him, until he felt the bite of her twin swords sinking into the chain-mail portion of his armor covering his back. He cried out in surprise and dodged to the left. Pulling off some fancy footwork, Rayvin danced away from the whirling swords of his assailant. Bringing the large blade up, he blocked her next attacks.

The wily hunter changed her tactics, though. She tumbled around him, springing up to her feet nimbly and then rushed at him. He felt the impact as she collided with him. It staggered him, setting him off-balance, but he wouldn’t allow her wild antics to set him on edge. As she tumbled away again, he whirled in the direction he anticipated her popping back up in, and readied to strike.

As she did, he spun his blade in his hands, delivering a gigantic sweeping blow, slicing across the furry expanse of the khajiit's exposed belly. A yowl of pain escaped her lips, but she wasn’t going down so easily. Engulfing herself in golden light, she cast a healing spell, undoing some of the damage he had done to her. Dancing away, she made a short jab at Rayvin, nicking his cheek.

Rayvin growled at her, and swung his Warblade at her, the tip scoring a deep slash to her ribs. She rolled away, crying out in pain before coming back for another attack. The Khajiit brought her swords high, blocking another wide-arced attack and circled around Rayvin, waiting for the opportune moment to drive her sword deep into him.

He breathed in sharply and gnashed his teeth. This bitch was really pissing him off.  He lunged, swinging the heavy blood stained sword again. The khajiit barely managed to dodge his next attack. The next one, she failed to block. Blood sprayed from her side as his sword dug in deeply. Blood lust gripped him and he lunged again, stabbing the sword into her torso. Spinning behind the khajiit, he slashed his Warblade across the back of her legs, crippling her. She yowled, stumbling to her knees. Her blades fell from her hands.

Rayvin shouldered his greatsword and the khajiit by the scruff of her neck, jerking her head back, “Must you make such a racket?” He sneered down at her insolently.

With one hand, he brought his Warblade forth from his shoulder and swiftly drew it across the hunter’s throat, silencing her. Then with a swift kick, her body joined the other two littering the clearing.

He turned to Sinding. “Are there any more?”

The werewolf turned slowly to face Rayvin, his red eyes aglow, his nostrils flaring. He shook his large head before speaking, “The scent of blood is overwhelming, but the only living thing I sense in the grotto is you. You have my thanks for aiding me.”

Sinding turned away. He needed to feed and there were the bodies of the fallen hunters. They would do nicely and would save him from attacking his new friend. Besides he knew there would be consequences for what happened here, especially from Hircine. Hawke would most likely have to deal with that. He knew what it meant to defy a Daedric Lord. He hoped Hawke fared better than he had.

“What will become of you now?”

“For now, I shall feed, sate the hunger. After that, I will make this my home. I know now I can never live among civilization.”

Rayvin nodded, watching the werewolf disappear back the way they came. He gave him time to feed before he followed. The time he spent in this clearing with looting the weapons from the dead and searching their camps for anything of value. He found several nice weapons as well as coin, books, and gems. All of his stowed. He collected Red Eagle’s Fury, returning it to its scabbard at his waist.

Making his way back to the main camp, he found Sinding sitting on a stump in human form. “I see you’ve changed back.”

Sinding glanced up at the skies. “The blood moon has set. Dawn will be upon us soon, another hour or so. I don’t have that clouding my senses. Being what I am is a terrible curse. I feel bad having to drag you into my problem, but no one else would help me.”

Rayvin hunkered down near him. “I remember a tale from my childhood. It was called Dane and the Werewolf. In the tale, Dane killed a rare white elk when he encountered a werewolf, who demanded tribute for the kill that had been made in his woods. Surrounded by a pack of werewolves, Dane had no choice but to strike a bargain: he would exchange lives and bodies with the werewolf. Dane lived as a werewolf for a year and a day while the werewolf lived the life Dane had left behind.”

Pondering the tale Rayvin he told him, Sinding eyed him thoughtfully. “You have never shown any fear of what I am. That’s not a reaction I am accustomed to.”

“I learned a long time ago that ‘monsters’ are nothing to fear. I’ve battled dragons, gigantic nightmare demons that looked like spiders, and ogres, monsters like you’ve never seen before. The things that scare me are intangible. Like never seeing my home or never seeing the smile of the person that I love again.” Rayvin confessed.

“Then you carry a heavier burden than I do.”

His forehead creased and he simply nodded. There was no denying it. That was always how his life had been. Nothing came easy for him, not matter how it seemed. He had fought and bled for every scrap. He rubbed his face and sniffed. “How did you become as you are? Were you bitten?”

Sinding shook his head. “I was, several years ago. It’s been a struggle ever since. That’s why I wanted the ring. I thought it would help me. Foolish. Remaining here is the right thing for me to do. I’ll be away from anyone I might hurt and hopefully in time I can find a cure. I have heard it exists.”

Rayvin’s mouth twitched and he gave a half-smile. “There’s still the matter of the cursed ring to be dealt with. I should probably tend to that. I expect when I exit the grotto, I’ll be greeted by Hircine or the Aspect of the Hunt, as I was when I killed that stag. That’ll be fun.” He rolled his eyes and sighed.

“Better you than me,” Sinding replied.

“Yeah, well, just so you know, you owe me for this.” Rayvin shot back as he headed out of the grotto.

As he expected, the ghostly visage of the stag appeared on the path leading up to the grotto’s cavernous entrance. Rayvin cocked a brow, placing his hands on his hips, and eyed the spectre intently.

As before he heard its voice thrumming in his soul when it spoke. “Well met again, hunter.”

Rayvin curled his lips in an insolent sneer. “I know why you’ve appeared. Your hunters have failed.”

“So they have. By bringing them down, you turned the chase inside out and they were no base prey.” The Aspect said smugly. “You continue to amuse and impress. Keep your eyes on the horizon, hunter, lest you become the hunted and go forth with my blessing.”

The apparition faded from view, leaving Rayvin to ponder its words. He had a feeling there was more to them than just a simple blessing. This was no mere coincidence. He could feel it in his gut. Like most things that had happened to him, time would tell.

***

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen: Only The Strong Survive

Rayvin left Bloated Man’s Grotto. Sinding was safe for the time being. He had a feeling that no more hunters would be sent after him. This was a test. If he had to guess, he would venture to say it was one that he had passed. He had gained Hircine’s Ring and blessing, but the cryptic words made him wonder. It reminded him of the words uttered by Flemeth. They hadn’t made any sense to him, either. Maybe this was the leap she was referring to. Maybe not. Who knew with her? It all made his head hurt.

The landscape stretching out in front of him was composed of rocky plains interspersed with a few stands of pine trees. In the distance were foothills and beyond that, one of the largest mountain peaks he had ever seen. He glanced around, his brow furrowing. For the first time in his life, he had no one counting on him. There was nowhere he had to be. No great quest to undertake, no great evil to fight. He felt lost, unsure what to do with himself. He had a freedom he had never felt before, but it wasn’t a blessing. This world wasn’t his. It was foreign and it had no more need of him than Thedas had. It was a disquieting realization that settled into his heart.

He left the road behind and began to cross the plains. Several wolves and  a sabre cat darted out from the high grass to attack him. He met them head on in a fury; the mantra of Live for the fight echoing in his head. Bloodlust pounded through his veins as he eviscerated the sabre cat and skewered the wolves with his Warblade.

After taking the time to skin the wolves and the sabre cat for the pelts, he set off again. He had only traveled a short distance when he came across what looked like an old ruin of standing pillars. Some had faces carved into them, others held carvings of animals. Before each of the pillars were rotating obelisks with more animal carvings. It had to be a puzzle of some sort, but Hawke figured whatever treasure this ruin had held must have been plundered by now. Still he couldn’t resist and aligned the obelisks with the animals on the pillars. Whale, eagle, snake.

A click sounded followed by the creak of something sliding open. Maybe there was something here after all. He moved to investigate, but he caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye. Rising from the grass came two skeletons wielding ancient looking swords. An unnatural blue glow radiated from otherwise empty eye sockets as they marched towards him.

“I should have known some ancient horror would spring up!”

He drew his Warblade and charged at the first one, swinging the blade in a wide arc. The blade impacted the skeleton’s rib cage, shattering it and severing its spinal cord, sending pieces flying in multiple directions. Whirling around to the second skeleton, he struck low, severing its legs at the knees then spun the sword in his hands and brought it up to decapitate the skeleton. He let out a laugh as he watched the unholy light fade in its eyes.

“Fucking undead!”

He had never been fond of the undead, had fought far too many in Kirkwall inevitably summoned by blood mages. It could be worse, though. Could be demons. Then again, demons tended to stay dead when you killed them.  After scattering the bones, he picked up the swords they wielded. They were old. There was no doubt about that, made in a similar style to Red Eagle’s Fury. The craftsmanship was impressive. He didn’t recognize the dark metal they had been forged from, but what impressed him the most was the sharpness of the blade. It had held its edge for seasons unending.

Stowing them in his pack, he searched for the source of the noise he had heard before the skeletons rose up. On the far side of the pillars was what might have been at one time the entrance into a deeper ruin, but rubble had filled it in, blocking whatever lie beneath. The rotted remains of wooden stairs spiraled downwards. In the center, however, was a battered chest.

Rayvin climbed down the short distance and knelt before it. He let out a wistful sigh. If only Varric or Isabela were here. He wasn’t worried about it being locked, but it did look at bit suspect. Either of them could have disabled the heinous trap he was sure on this thing. Visions of spikes or gas traps filled his head. Neither of those would be pleasant at the moment, but he wanted to find out what was in the chest. Curiosity would surely kill him one day, but hopefully not this day.

Easing back a few steps, he used one of the swords he just picked up to lift the lid and let out a breath of relief when nothing happened. Maybe he was just being paranoid, he shrugged and peered into it to see what it contained. Most of the items looked like junk. Old weapons and mismatched pieces of armor, but there were a few things he deemed salvageable. A book titled Hypothetical Treachery and a couple soul gems. He added them to his pack and climbed out.

Looking out into the distance, he exhaled deeply. The plain that stretched out in front of him seemed to go on for some distance, broken only by rocky outcroppings, hills and scattered trees. He could make out something that glimmered deep purple in the not too far away distance and that piqued his interest. Nothing rushed out from the grass to attack as he made his way over to the source of the glimmering thing, which as he drew close enough he discovered it was a tree. How and why this tree was shining purple he couldn’t explain, but he was sure he had never in all his life seen anything like it.

The other thing he noticed was the shaking of the earth. A deep rumbling under his feet that seemed to be drawing closer. Rayvin scanned for the source, moving further into the small valley that contained the tree. Then he spotted it coming over a small rise beyond the tree. A giant with swirling designs carved into its bright white skin plodded along towards what looked like a camp near the tree. Following behind it was one of the massive mammoths with shaggy brown fur. Carved into the beast’s tusks were designs that matched those of the giants.

He immediately dropped down into a crouch, unsure if the giant had caught sight of him yet. He had no fear of fighting the giant. He viewed it more as a challenge, but he wasn’t about to attack blindly. A trumpeting sound followed by the appearance of a second mammoth hurtling over the rise to his right gave him a moment of pause. Two mammoths and a giant. He and Amariel had taken down one mammoth. Was it worth it just to check out the tree? If he could draw them off one at a time, it wouldn’t be so… he growled at the inner cautionary voice. Draw them off? What was he? A rogue… no, he was a warrior and warriors fought. Charge in raging, bloodlust pounding through his veins. He drew the Warblade from his back and popped up from the crouch he was in.

Just as he was about to charge headlong at the giant, a low gruff voice came from his left. “Are you crazy? What in the name of Malacath is wrong with you?”

Rayvin halted and spun on his heel, coming face to face with a green skinned male with tusks protruding from a very prominent jowl. “What the fuck are you?” Rayvin hissed and dropped back into a crouch, eying the male speculatively.

“Name’s Ulag,” he murmured. “That giant will split your foolish Nord skull if you charge in by yourself. I have half a mind to let it, but I need some sap from that tree.”

“I didn’t ask your name and I’m not a Nord. What the fuck are you with your green skin and those tusks? You some kind of weird beast?”

Ulag pursed his lips. Was this milk-drinker for real? “Watch your tongue, Nord. I’ll show you what an Orc can do with this green skin and these tusks. I’ll kick your milk-drinker ass from here to Oblivion.”

“Try me, you ugly fucker and I’ll knock your tusks so far down your throat, you’ll have to shove a brush up your ass to clean them.” Rayvin’s lips drew back in a snarl as a vein bulged in his neck. “You think I carry this sword for the hell of it.”

“All you Nords seem to be compensating for something, but if I had to guess what yours might be, I’d say it’s something south—.” The Orc began before Rayvin cut him off with a solid punch to his face. Bones crunched and his nose exploded in a shower of blood. Ulag cried out loudly from the pain, bellowing about his broken nose.

“More like a short fuse on my temper, fucker.” Rayvin sneered at the Orc. “Get your own sap.”

Then he stalked away, heading straight for the giant. He needed to kill something, could feel the bloodlust building, soaring, reaching a boiling point. The odds were against him, but that had never bothered him. He had been in worse battles, ones he never thought he’d survive. The Nightmare demon was the latest. Even with the mammoths, the giant couldn’t possibly be as bad as the Nightmare was. He would soon find out.

He rolled his shoulders and took off at a run towards the giant with the Warblade in hand. The giant who had been plodding along aimlessly stopped and removed the club it had had resting idly across its shoulders. It growled harshly in its guttural language and assumed an aggressive posture, the club no longer slung across its shoulders, but in its grip. The giant swung the club, bringing it crashing down, where it impacted with the ground.

He scrambled to avoid being hit. The club was massive, the head of the weapon formed from rock. The shaft was that of a small tree, honed down to size. He could only assume that animal sinew held it all together. He zigzagged and spun on his heel, whirling the Warblade in an arc. His attack opened a slice on the back of the giant’s legs. The giant snarled in that guttural language and brought the club crashing down once again just as forcefully. Rayvin brought the Warblade up, blocking the giant’s attack, but force of the blow sent him staggering back a few steps. The giant hit hard. He could feel it still resonating through his arms and down his spine. He knew taking a direct hit to the body would be bad and would hurt like hell.

He swung his blade in an arc, hitting the giant’s legs again, slicing and rending flesh. The giant let out a roar of pain, and drew back a fist in retaliation, bringing it slamming down against the side of Rayvin’s head. The blow staggered him even more, had him seeing stars as he fought the rising nausea. A second blow followed, opening a gash above his eye. He could feel the blood running down his face, stinging as it got into his eyes, blurring his vision.

He stumbled backwards and tried to use his sword to steady himself, to stay on his feet, but the third blow from the giant succeeded in knocking him flat on his back. He hit the ground hard. The impact left him out of breath, but he managed to recover quickly and rolled to avoid the next hit, kicking at the giant’s legs.

Rayvin rolled back, grabbing the hilt of his sword. He brought it up in front of him and slashed at the creature’s legs. He wasn’t going to give up. He might be down, but he was far from out. If he could get back up on his feet, he’d have a better shot at taking this big bastard down.

The giant bellowed something in its guttural language and brought the club crashing down at him.

"SweetFuckingMaker!” Rayvin muttered as he tried to block it with his Warblade.

 

***


Skyhold - two months after the events of Adamant


It was dark. Why was it so dark? Cullen turned to light the lamp, his gaze frowning when he saw the lamp was brightly lit.

Then why was it so dark?

Something growled around him, and he turned with his sword and shield in hand, trying hard to defend himself.

But there was nothing there. Nothing at all…

Cullen frowned as his eyes fell on the top of his desk, a folded paper with the seal of House Tethras on it.

Opening the seal took little time and what he read next had his mind reeling in horror and sadness.

“I’m sorry to have to break this to you, but Rayvin Hawke is dead, Cullen. He died from drinking Aquae Lucidius and Aqua Magus. Both together are a potent poison."

Cullen let a wail out and sat up, realizing that he was in bed, and it was still dark outside. He gave a sigh of relief when he realized it had all been a nightmare. Shaking his head he frowned. Another nightmare about Hawke. Unable to fall back to sleep, he got up and washed, dressing immediately afterwards. Thus Cullen started his day extremely early and worked on paperwork all morning.

Sometime around the noon hour a noise interrupted his work. He looked up to see Cole standing near his desk. The pale boy watched him through a veil of stringy blond hair.

The stone is cracked, split jagged, the hawk would have been safe if it had stayed, but that isn’t what hawks do,” he murmured as he drew closer.

“Cole.”

The spirit clasped his hands together, focusing intently on Cullen. “I can help.”

“I appreciate the offer, but I’ve told you that I don’t want to forget. I want to find him.” Cullen gazed upon the spirit soulfully. Part of him couldn’t believe he was even discussing this with a spirit of all things, but there had been so many failed attempts to find Rayvin. His brow furrowed. “Can you feel him? Is he still alive?”

He knew he was grasping at smoke with those questions, but he needed to know something. Anything.

Live for the fight when it’s all you have left, the wine drowns out the voices, if only Cullen could see me now.” Cole intoned softly as he stared out into the blue. Then he focused on Cullen once more. “His hurt touches yours. There’s a lot of pain, but I don’t know where he is.”

“Thank you, Cole.”

Cole vanished from sight, making Cullen shake his head. He still hadn’t fully gotten used to the presence of the spirit boy, but Cassandra had finally accepted him and Cullen trusted Cassandra’s judgment.

 

***

 

Cullen paced back and forth behind his desk, his eyes glancing down at the report Leliana had sent to him. One hand clutched the pommel of his sword while the other rubbed his temple in an attempt to soothe away the headache steadily growing in intensity. He needed more information beyond the vague description in the missive sent by Ivor of the Blades of Hessarian. He wanted to believe that this time the information would be legitimate and it wouldn’t be another wild goose chase.

Ivor claimed a man with long black hair had turned up on the Sword Coast dragging behind him a large sword and ranting he was the Champion, but given the lack of definitive proof, Cullen wasn’t so sure. A part of him hoped it was Rayvin. There was only one way to find out.

Crossing the bridge, he cut through Solas’ rotunda and headed for the stairs which would take him up to the library and beyond to the rookery. Solas wasn’t present in the rotunda as the elf had gone with the Inquisitor to Emprise du Lion. He took the stairs by two, making short work of them and didn’t stop to speak to anyone in the library. He did take note that Dorian was bent over a rather large book. Perhaps it was the Liberalum they managed to find for him. Hopefully, the mage would find something useful in it that helped in their fight against Corypheus. It certainly hadn’t been easy to procure a copy.

After climbing a second circular stairway, he made his way into the rookery and halted for a moment as his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. How Leliana worked up here was beyond him. Obviously, she was accustomed to it. He knew she would say something about working from the shadows, but it didn’t need to be literal. Shaking his head, he spotted her near her shrine to Andraste, kneeling before Maker’s Prophet softly praying.

“Has the report from Ivor been verified?” Cullen asked as he reached Leliana’s side.

“Regarding?” She glanced up over her shoulder, an almost annoyed expression flashing across her face briefly before she schooled her features and stood up to face him.

Cullen’s brows furrowed. “The possibility that it could be Hawke on the Storm Coast. I need to know.”

Leliana made her way over to her workspace and rummaged around in her reports until she found the one she was looking for. “Rector sent me this. He described the man on the Storm Coast as having long shaggy black hair, wearing heavy armor, carrying a large sword and spoke in a belligerent manner. He claimed to be the Champion, but wouldn’t say where he came from.”

She then handed Cullen the report, who skimmed through it.

“It sounds like him and it is the best lead we’ve had thus far.”

“Do you want me to send a few of my agents to the Storm Coast?” She inquired.

Cullen shook his head. “No. If it is truly him, I’d never hear the end of it. I need to do this.” A small smile crossed his face as he allowed a small amount of hope to blossom within him.

 

***

 

Cullen left the rookery. There were preparations to make. He also needed to inform Varric. He assumed the dwarf would want to accompany him. Besides it would give him the chance to speak to Varric about the nightmare he had. He usually would not share such things with anyone. The nightmares he had he didn’t talk about. They had become worse since he had stopped taking lyrium. It was his struggle, but this… he needed to know if what he dreamed about was something Rayvin would actually do. Varric was the only person he knew that would know.

Varric wasn’t present in his usual spot in the keep’s great hall so he headed for the tavern. Crossing the courtyard, he briefly stopped at the sparring ring. It wasn’t the combatants in the ring that caught his attention, but a hand sized carving on the upper rung closest to him. He nudged one of the onlookers aside then knelt down to get a good look at it.

The crude carving was of a pair of wings, similar to the wings tattooed on Rayvin’s back. Next to it were the initials RH. Awe transformed his face. When had Rayvin had time to do this? He ran his fingers over it as his heart hammered in his chest. That sneaky— he chuckled softly under his breath. That was Hawke, though. He dared to do the things no one else would.

He glanced into the ring as a memory took hold. Another fond moment that he would cherish…

Despite the fact it was still early in the morning there were men sparring in the ring. Nearby in the training yard, Blackwall shouted orders at some of the newer recruits. Rayvin paused to watch, a fond smile on his face.

“This brings back memories,” he mused.

Cullen raised a brow. “How so?”

“The Kirkwall Guard. I wasn’t a member, but I spent a great deal of my time in the barracks, sparring with the guardsmen and Aveline. Maker, was she ever a sore loser!”

Cullen let out a snort of laughter, “I can imagine. The Captain of the Guard losing to the Champion. I’m sure you never let her forget it.”

Hawke flashed a grin, “Never.” Then he shook his head. “She paid me back in spades. Avey and I were never close. Remember the whole mess with Jevan and how you had me investigate claims of her coddling her guardsmen. She really didn’t appreciate that. She said she always knew there was a limit of how much she’d take from me. She never thought she’d be grateful being pushed passed it. I poked at her too much that day, and she came out swinging. She took me to the floor in her office, beat the shit out of me. Gave me a black eye. I told her if she ever did that again, I’d hit back.”

Cullen shook his head, “Did you ever think you could avoid it?”

Rayvin shot him a look, “Where’s the fun in that? The drama? If you haven’t noticed, I like getting under people’s skin. Poking at them, finding out what makes them tick.”

The combatants who had been in the sparring ring finished their match and exited the ring, leaving it empty. Not waiting for Cullen’s response to his last remark, Hawke grabbed hold of Cullen’s hand, pulling him toward the ring.

“Maker’s breath! What are you up to now?”

Rayvin cocked his head toward the ring, “Fancy a match, Commander?”

"Hawke, no…”

Mirth and mischief gleamed in Rayvin’s blue eyes. “Oh, c’mon, don’t be a stick in the mud. It’ll be fun… like foreplay.” He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.

“No. There are a hundred things that require my attention.”

“What? Like paperwork? It can wait. Spar with me. When are you ever going to get the chance to say you beat the Champion in combat?” Hawke grinned. “You know you want to.”

A crowd had begun to gather around the sparring circle.

Rayvin turned to those gathered, calling out, “INQUISITION! Who wants to see your Commander face off against me, the Champion of Kirkwall?” He held his arms up, listening to their shouts and catcalls.

Cullen pinned an exasperated look upon Hawke. He knew there was no way he could avoid sparring with Rayvin now. “Fine. What are the terms of the match?”

“How about blunted swords and shields and we go until either party surrenders or is disarmed? Sound fair to you?”

“And armor?”

“Do you really want me to put on my full Champion armor, Cullen?” Rayvin cocked a brow. Shaking his head, he pulled his red and gold brocade Amell crested tunic off and tossed it over the railing. “I’m good as is. How about a private wager?” He winked and watched as a blush stained Cullen’s cheeks.

Cullen cleared his throat, “We’ll discuss that later.”

Rayvin chuckled low in his throat. “Looking forward to it.”

The crowd surrounding the ring grew larger, even drawing spectators from the tavern and the keep. Many of the faces Hawke recognized. The Iron Bull and his Chargers, Blackwall, Sera, Alistair as well as Leliana and Dorian. He also noticed that wagers were being placed. At the very center of the betting was Varric. Rayvin chuckled. He should have known.

Removing most of his armor, Cullen stripped down to nothing but leather pants and boots. He joined Rayvin in the ring, where they were both handed a blunted longsword and practice shield by one of the soldiers.

Rayvin gave the sword a few swings, getting a feel for it, as Cullen did the same. He had a feeling that the Commander was far more comfortable with these weapons and he would have to be on guard. It had been quite some time since he’d sparred with Aveline.

“Ready?” Cullen asked.

Hawke answered by tossing his long hair over his shoulder and  beckoned him forth with a crooked finger.

They circled each other before Cullen immediately came at Hawke with a quick slash. Hawke blocked Cullen’s attack with his shield, swinging his own sword in a hard, fast strike to Cullen’s left side. Then he followed it up with a shield bash, in which Cullen hissed at the feel of the shield smacking his side. They circled each other again. Hawke’s eyes were twinkling merrily. He was enjoying himself immensely.

“That the best you got, Rutherford.”

Cullen lunged at Hawke, slipping the practice sword in between Hawke’s shield and his body, but before Cullen’s sword could connect with Hawke’s unprotected side, Hawke trapped Cullen’s hand at the wrist with his shield, forcing him to pull back with a grimace.

“Are you even trying?”

Cullen’s next move was several quick and hard hits to Hawke’s shield followed up by a roundhouse shield bash that met empty air. Hawke nimbly danced away. He twirled his sword in his hand, chuckling loudly at Cullen for missing. He didn’t even bother taunting him for it. He knew the laughter would be enough.

The match continued on until the two were dripping with sweat down their chiseled chests and abs. Sweat had plastered their hair to their heads and turned the rest to wet tendrils. They matched each other strike for strike, blow for blow. Strike, parry, block, and bash. The two were in perfect shape and it showed in how they fought. Neither seemed willing to give an inch.

Hawke was far from tired. Adrenaline pumped through him, had him on a rush that no amount of alcohol could match. He didn’t want this to end, but he did want to win. He would claim the prize for winning the wager. His eyes lit up as he delivered a punishing blow with his sword to Cullen’s side, following it up with a shield bash. Then he executed the roundhouse shield bash that Cullen had failed to complete earlier, striking him as hard as he could. Cullen bellowed and staggered, leaving himself wide open for Hawke’s next attack.

Hawke bashed Cullen again in the same spot. The blond Commander lurched in pain as Hawke swept the practice sword around his body in a wide arc, slashing it across his unprotected midsection. Then he quickly whirled gracefully upon the balls of his feet behind Cullen, using his momentum to disarm Cullen of his sword. Completing the circuit around him, Rayvin raised his foot and planted it squarely in the middle of Cullen’s chest, knocking him onto his back.

With his sword at Cullen’s throat, he grinned, “Victory!”

“Commander… Cullen… Are you even listening?”

“Huh? What?” A shrill voice pulled him from his reverie and he stood up, a startled expression on his face. “Oh, Cassandra… did you need something?”

“I had asked you what you were doing, but you did not answer me. You looked like you were far away.” Her eyes beamed and a small smile lingered on her lips.

“I was…” he cleared his throat. “I noticed something on the top rung here. Looks like Hawke left his mark.”

Cassandra knelt down and caught sight of the wings. “So he did. He would not autograph my book, but he defaces our property. Ugh.”

Cullen tried not to smirk, but failed miserably. He knew any comment that he could make would not appease her so he stayed silent on the matter and instead changed the subject. “Have you seen Varric?”

“I have not.”

Cullen nodded, “I was headed for the tavern when this distracted me. Care to join me?”

“I would be delighted to, Cullen.” She gave him a warm smile and together they headed into Herald’s Rest.

 

***

 

It was miserable on the Storm Coast. The rain came down in cold torrents, soaking them to the skin and plastering their hair to their heads in the matter of minutes. Fortunately for them, the camp of the Blades of Hessarian was only a short ride away. Despite the downpour, the small party comprised of Cullen, Varric, Cassandra and a few Inquisition soldiers were in good spirits. Even Varric didn’t have a single complaint. The thought this might actually be Hawke made it all worthwhile.

As soon as the encampment was in sight, their pace hastened. At the gates, members of the Blades came forth to take their horses and ushered them inside to see Ivor, but it wasn’t Ivor that Cullen and Varric wanted to speak to.

In the far left corner of the encampment was Hawke, destroying a pair of training dummies with his Warblade. Cullen sucked in a deep breath, running his hand through his wet hair. His hand slipped down to the back of his neck, which he rubbed nervously. It was really him. He licked his lips and hesitated to move forward, watching as Hawke swung his greatsword in a sweeping arc, battering the already mangled dummies. Hawke’s black hair whipped around his head in wet tendrils.

Varric noticed Cullen’s hesitance and cocked a brow. A smirk graced his face and he bobbed his head in Hawke’s direction. “You alright, Curly?”

“I - yes, I wasn’t sure what we’d find once we arrived, but it seems all my worry was for naught.” A small smile crossed his face and he took a step forward. The feeling of butterflies fluttering in his stomach served to exacerbate the nervousness.

“You want me to give you a few moments to speak to Hawke first?” Varric offered as the sound of angry snarling and splintering wood from another obliterated training dummy came from the far corner.

An uncertain look crossed Cullen’s face. “From the look of it, it might take all of us to calm him down. He sounds quite angry.” His amber eyes fell on not only Varric, but Cassandra as well, who had just joined them after speaking with Ivor.

“I see it is not only our equipment that is suffering due to Hawke’s rage,” Cassandra spoke up, her dark eyes flashing. “Are we just going to stand here?”

“No.”

Varric offered a lopsided grin, “You never know, Seeker, Curly might be admiring the view. Maybe you should consider doing the same. Hawke does strike an impressive form.”

“Ugh,” Cassandra made a disgusted noise, her upper lip curling. She rolled her eyes. “Shall we get on with this?”

Cullen raised a golden brow at Cassandra and headed toward Hawke with Varric and Cassandra on his heels. As he drew close to the small training area, he could see the shattered remains of several training dummies heaped into a pile not far from the two that were currently nothing more than kindling and straw.

Hawke was standing with his back to them, his head bowed, his chest heaving, and his breath coming out in ragged uneven pants. The Warblade was slung across his shoulders. Everything about his posture was tense.

Varric had seen it before and hastened his pace to catch up with Cullen. “Let me,” he cautioned as he made his way over to Hawke.

“You feelin’ alright, Hawke?” Varric ventured.

Hawke turned slowly at the sound of that voice, a feral grin sliding across his lips. His hands moved on the hilt of the Warblade, spinning it in his palm. He whirled it over Varric’s head, eliciting an expletive from the dwarf, and drove the tip into the ground beside him.

“Out of your element, dwarf,” Hawke quipped, his blue eyes twinkling.

...

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen: Audacity

Out of your element, dwarf.

Varric let out a bark of laughter at Hawke’s glibness. It seemed the Champion was back in full force and taking no prisoners, so to speak. For Varric it was a welcome change. He knew all too well Hawke’s uncanny luck. The man always seemed to come out on top.

“Can’t say I’m thrilled to be in the ass end of Thedas, but it’s good to see you.” Varric’s whole face was alight with happiness, as a warm and fuzzy feeling settled into his gut. Losing him at Adamant had been devastating, a far worse feeling than he had ever experienced. He hadn’t fully processed the emotional upheaval before Bianca showed up at Skyhold and dumped her mess into his lap. He should have known if anyone could conquer the Fade, it would be Hawke.

A lopsided grin crossed Hawke’s face. “Ah, be still my beating heart. You came all this way to see me.” He pushed the dripping wet tendrils of his long hair away from his face and glanced past Varric, eyes narrowing as he caught sight of Cullen. He cocked a brow. “Tell me one thing, Varric. Why in the name of the Maker did you bring him for?” He motioned toward Cullen. “Hanging out with Templars? What will people say?”

Cullen drew in a sharp breath, bristling visibly. Surely this wasn’t happening. Rayvin wouldn’t dismiss what they had together so readily. It didn’t make sense. A small ache pierced his heart as something didn’t seem right. “Do you not remember Skyhold?”

“Skyhold?” Hawke repeated blankly. “Nope. Last thing I remember Anders and I were headed for Rivain to meet with Isabela, but this sure as hell isn’t Rivain. Too cold. I don’t know how I got here or where Anders is. You didn’t catch him, did you?”

A woman with short black hair marched forth, stopping at Cullen’s side, one Hawke was certain he’d never seen before. “If this is an act, I suggest you drop it. We do not appreciate it.”

Hawke cocked a brow at her then glanced down at his dwarven friend. “Manners, Varric,” his rich voice came out in a low, husky purr. “Introduce me to this lovely vision.” He swaggered over to Cassandra, looking her up and down appreciatively, all the while making ‘mmm mmm mmm’ noises in his throat. “I am Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall. I’ve been called the Charmer of Kirkwall on occasion. Pleased to make your acquaintance, my lady.”

“Pouring it on kind of thick, eh Hawke?” Varric lifted a brow. “You do realize she’s the Seeker who was searching for you? Ring a bell?”

Hawke flashed a dazzling smile upon her, the kind of smile designed to make ladies swoon. “I’d say you’ve found me, sweetheart. Question is, now that you have, what are you planning to do with me?”

A low husky chuckle slipped from his lips. His sapphire eyes twinkled with mirth. All of his earlier rage had been whisked away like dust in the wind.

“I have no plans for you, other than to ask where you have been.” Cassandra replied and took a sidelong glance at Cullen. The Commander wore an unreadable expression and she couldn’t help but wonder how Hawke’s odd behavior was affecting him.

Hawke smirked, his eyes twinkling, “As much as I love hearing the sound of my own voice, is it really necessary that I repeat myself when we could find something far more interesting to fill the time with?”

Though the smoothness of his voice was definitely having an effect, making her quiver in all the right places, his flirting was rather inappropriate. Her upper lip curled and made a noise of disgust in the back of her throat. “Ugh!” Turning on her heel, she strode away, shaking her head. She wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but something wasn’t right. Either the Fade had rattled Hawke’s mind or they were dealing with something they had never encountered before, but clearly, there was more afoot than they had expected.

“Your loss, sweetheart.” Hawke shrugged and headed for the small cabin within the Blades compound. Ivor had given Hawke use of the dwelling once he realized who Hawke was. As he reached the door, he turned back, grinning. “Say, Varric, you up for Wicked Grace?”

Varric’s grin matched Hawke’s. He’d said the magic words. Varric was always up for Wicked Grace. “Only if you’re up for losing more of your money.”

Besides all this rain and that smell really wasn’t doing anything to improve Varric’s mood. Why Hawke had to show up here of all places he’d never understand? Why couldn’t it have been Kirkwall? Considering the City of Chains was somewhere across the Waking Sea from where they currently were. Then he’d be home. What he wouldn’t give to sit in his suite at the Hanged Man with the whole gang around him one more time?

Before shit in Kirkwall blew up. Before Hawke had gone on the run with Blondie. Before the Seeker interrogated him and dragged him to the ass end of Thedas. Before more shit blew up at the Conclave. Before they realized they were fighting the darkspawn magister they had let loose. Why couldn’t things just go back to simpler times? Then again, even then things weren’t always so simple.

Cullen rested a hand on Varric’s shoulder. His voice was soft, but strong, but his eyes glittered with emotion. He knew in his heart, even more so than in his head, that something was amiss. He couldn’t say what, but it gnawed at him. More than Rayvin’s strange behavior. He had always known Rayvin was a flirt. He’d been aware of the comments Rayvin had made to Cassandra at Skyhold. It was part of his nature, his carefree, shameless and completely unabashed nature. This felt different.

Varric hadn’t seemed to have picked up on it. The dwarf preferred to let many of Rayvin’s bad habits slide for whatever reason. They had been best friends a very long time and the only fault Varric hadn’t turned a blind eye to was the alcoholism and that was only when got out of hand at Skyhold. Overall, though, Varric, well, Varric adored Hawke, so he was biased where the man was concerned and he may not be willing to listen if Cullen said something was wrong. So he needed proof… proof not even the dwarf could deny.

“Mind if I talk to him first before you distract him with Wicked Grace?”

Varric pursed his lips. He knew where this was going. He trained a piercing gaze on the Commander, “Curly, I know you want to get your hands on Hawke, but you two tend to forget about everyone else.”

A slight blush crossed Cullen’s face and he placed one hand on his hip and the other on the pommel of his sword. He cleared his throat, shifting about nervously. Heat crept into the Commander’s cheeks, flushing them with a pretty shade of pink that clashed with the red of his armor. “I know that, Varric, but this is important. I won’t take much of his time. There’s just one thing I need to know.”

Varric sighed and shook his head. Who was he to get in the way of whatever it was that Hawke and Curly had had going on? He didn’t really like it, especially since Hawke seemed to not want Cullen around, but if that’s what it took to get this straightened out, so be it. Varric motioned to the dwelling Hawke had entered.

“Alright, Curly.”

Cullen nodded his thanks and followed in Hawke’s footsteps. He drew in a shaky breath as he entered the small cabin. Its interior was dim, but at least it was dry. A few cots lined the walls. A table, a few chairs and a small fire pit completed the furnishings. It was even sparser than most Ferelden dwellings he’d seen.

Hawke stood by one of the cots with his back to him. If he had heard Cullen enter, he hadn’t acknowledged his presence. That added to Cullen’s growing suspicion. Something was truly wrong. And he would get to the bottom of it.

“Rayvin.”

Hawke slowly glanced over his shoulder at Cullen, his sapphire eyes narrowing. He placed his hands on his hips and shook his long hair, letting drops of water fly from the tendrils. “Have we become so familiar, Knight-Captain, that you feel you can call me by a name that only my family does? Or better yet, Anders only called me that name during sex?”

His jaw clenching, Cullen gritted his teeth together. “That is not my title any longer. I left the Templar Order. I am the Commander of The Inquisition forces. You truly don’t remember any of this?”

Hawke ignored him and began to work on the buckles and straps holding his armor together. Just as he tossed the gauntlets onto the bed, he glanced back at Cullen, taking note of the serious expression of the Commander’s face. “Where’s Varric?”

Cullen sighed and shook his head. He had chosen to ignore what Hawke had said about Anders, keeping quiet as he watched Hawke remove another piece of armor. This time it was the breastplate, with all the chainmail accents. Lastly came the greaves and boots. Like most warriors, Hawke wore underarmor beneath his heavy Champion’s armor. And he stripped most of it all as well, leaving his upper torso bare.

Cullen sucked in a breath at the sight. His eyes widened and his mouth gaped. “Who are you?” He accused. “What are you? Because you are most certainly not Rayvin Hawke.”

Hawke turned to face him, a perplexed expression crossing his face. “What are you on about, Knight-Captain? Has the lyrium soaked your brain? Ya know, I’ve seen Templars deep in the ravages of lyrium madness. You might want to look into that. You might be experiencing that.”

“I am in full control of my faculties.” Cullen gritted out, his eyes sweeping over the bare expanse of Hawke’s chest and arms. There were no tattoos, and hardly any scars at all. The scar bisecting his midsection that had come from the battle with the Arishok was missing. “You are an imposter.”

“I think you are an imposter, Templar, pretending to be anything more than Meredith’s lackey. Did you really think you would be free of the past?” Hawke strode close to Cullen, eyes glowing as he spoke. “Did you really think you would be able to start over? That your new colleagues wouldn’t remember what you’ve done. Do you think they’d forget the blood that’s on your hands because of your inaction? Because of your fear of mages. Because mages aren’t like you and me. You can’t treat them like people.”

Golden eyes ignited. A muscle twitched in his cheek and he clenched his jaw hard. “How dare you!” Cullen turned on his heel, heading for the door.

“Don’t let the door hit ya in the ass on the way out!” Hawke called after Cullen’s retreating back, watching as he left the cabin, slamming the door behind him.

Cullen stalked over to where Varric sat under a canopy, out of the rain. His face resembled a thundercloud, his eyes flashing angrily. “I don’t know who or what that is, but it’s not Rayvin.”

Varric raised a brow and carefully watched Cullen. The way he clenched and unclenched his fists, how the nervous mannerisms of clutching the sword had ceased, only to be replaced by the growling and pacing. “What makes you say that, Curly?”

“I know Rayvin, and that is not him.” Cullen took a deep breath and explained his suspicions to Varric, the lack of scars and tattoos, calling him Knight-Captain, and the strange amnesia as well as the references to Anders being alive. “I fear— ”

There was a commotion at the entrance of the compound and Cassandra swiftly moved to intercept. Cullen turned his attention to it as a few members of the Chargers greeted the Seeker. He recognized Krem, the Iron Bull’s second-in-command, the elf called Dalish, the warrior called Grim, and the elf called Skinner. His brow furrowed. He wasn’t sure why they were here, but if it had anything to do with the mystery surrounding whatever it was impersonating Rayvin, he welcomed the aid. He wasn’t sure that he, Varric and Cassandra could take it on and come out of it unscathed. Especially if it was as he feared. Some kind of demon. The glowing eyes had been a sure sign.

“Cullen,” Cassandra called out to him, the worry on her face evident. She crossed her arms in front of her chest.

“Yes, Cassandra.” Then he nodded to Krem.

“Tell the Commander what you told me.”

The young man turned a solemn face toward Cullen. “Sister Nightingale sent us out a few weeks ago. We have been tracking an envy demon that escaped from Therinfal Redoubt. It’s some sort of shapeshifter. Witnesses have described incidents of friends acting strangely or being in two places at once, that sort of thing. The demon has tried to impersonate everyone from Seeker Pentaghast, to the Chief, even me and we’ve tracked it here. We fear it might be impersonating someone else currently.”

Realization dawned on Cullen. “Andraste preserve me, it is here.”

“Cullen?” Cassandra questioned, her brows sliding up into her hairline. “You do not mean to suggest—”

His countenance was grim and he knew that thing had lured them here, probably in order to impersonate one of them. Demons. It was always demons. His golden eyes hardened. As much as he had wanted it to be Rayvin, he should have known better. Why had he thought after all the failures that he would finally be found? He clenched his jaw.

“That is exactly what I meant to suggest. I knew something was off. Now I know for certain. It’s not Rayvin. It’s the envy demon impersonating him and I bet it wanted to take over one of us. I bet it wanted to access to Skyhold. What better way to destroy us than within? I have seen it before.”

He closed his eyes, steeling himself for what was to come. With the Chargers here, they could take on that demon, no matter what form it assumed.

***

Hawke exited the small cabin, his brow furrowing, and glanced around. The dwarf was supposed to join him for Wicked Grace. He saw many members of the Blades of Hessarian, but not his long time dwarven friend. Scratching his head, he wandered over to where he left his Warblade, he called out to him. “Hey Varric. I brought the cards or are we using yours?”

He strapped the heavy blade to his back and meandered the short distance to the center of the compound. He didn’t see anyone that had come here with Varric. Not the pretty Seeker or the Knight-Captain. Odd.

“Hey! Varric!”

A blast of cold hit him. He scanned the area, eyes sweeping across the compound until he caught sight of an elf with a staff, a glowing crystal at the tip, just before the spell froze his limbs in place. He felt his body seize as the cold seeped through his armor. Growling, he willed himself to move as a second spell, this time a blast of lightning, followed.

The bolt skittered over his frozen flesh, further paralyzing him. He heard the war cry of a warrior next, watching as two stepped out from where they had been hiding in the compound’s small stable. It was the pretty Seeker and a dark haired young man. They charged at him, weapons at the ready.

Another spell hit, more cold freezing him in place. From behind he could make out the sound of the Bianca’s arms unfurling as a crossbow bolt slid into place. It was a sound he knew all too well, but never before had it been directed at him. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. His throat refused to make the sounds. Panic set in as a sticky substance exploded all over him, enveloping his limbs. It had to be a grenade launched from Varric’s crossbow.

Two more warriors emerged from hiding places. The Knight-Captain — Commander, he claimed to be— was one of them, though the shield he carried wasn’t of Templar make. It has flaming eye symbol, the same as the symbol the Seeker wore on the front of her armor, like the shield she carried. At his right flank, he sensed more than saw yet another attacker. He was now surrounded. This wasn’t good. He had fought through overwhelming odds before, but this… this wasn’t a fight he could win. He needed to get out of there.

A dagger slipped in, exploiting a weakness between the plates of his heavy armor. He would have cried out if not for the magical stranglehold on his throat. An onslaught of blades hit him repeatedly, longswords wielded by the Seeker and the Commander and the heavy two-handed weapons, a maul and a greatsword by two warriors he didn’t recognize, one being dark-haired and the other blond. Their attacks dented his armor and drew blood, spilling it from multiple wounds.

Delving deep into himself, he found the will to move, to break away from the magic holding him. A glow encompassed his form, shimmering and changing, and granted him the chance to shift away from them altogether. As the glow receded, the physical appearance of Rayvin Hawke melted away, leaving behind the demon’s true form.

For those who had fought at Adamant, who had been in the Fade and witnessed the Nightmare demon in the flesh, seeing this thing brought all of that crashing back. Despite the fact it lacked the size of that particular demon, this one with its pale flesh glistening with some form of ichor was also the kind of demon nightmares spawned from. On its sightless head, there were only a criss-crossing of blood red lines and bulbous tumors. It strangely resembled a human, but it had long spindly limbs stretching beyond what was humanly possible, and an extra set of arms grew above the first. Its back bowed out, its white legs fading to red as they bent forward, feet placed on the ground in front of its body. Its mouth opened, a terrifying screech ripping from rows upon rows of razor-sharp, needle-like teeth. It bent and twisted before it stood erect, its large palms slapping and grabbing at them as it counterattacked, viciously pummeling their armor and flesh.

Another ear-splitting shriek pierced the air, causing the warriors surrounding Envy to stagger back as they doubled over in pain, clutching their heads. Dalish was not affected, however. She continued blasting the demon with ice and lightning, even tossed in an immolate spell for good measure, though she made sure not to hit any of the Chargers or Cullen and Cassandra.

Likewise, Varric wasn’t affected, either. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but he was relieved he wasn’t shooting his best friend with his crossbow. He had always said Bianca didn’t like being fired at friends. Reloading with a special crossbow bolt, this one being an explosive bolt, he fired again, hitting the demon in the center of the back.

It screamed in pain, twisting as it had before, turning its bulbous head toward him. Varric cursed, firing again and watched as the bolt sank into the thing’s head. This reprieve allowed the Cullen and Cassandra to recover. Cassandra bashed it with her shield before slashing at it with her sword, the sharp blade slicing through one of its spindly arms.

As the limb came off the body, the demon attempted to flee, its piercing scream echoing through the compound, but this time, it had no effect on the warriors. Krem and Grim struck the demon with their weapons. The maul that Grim wielded slammed into its abdomen while Krem swung his greatsword at the demon’s legs, severing them at the knees.

As the demon collapsed to the ground with one final scream, Cullen shoved his sword through its head, pinning it to the ground.

Cullen walked away from the battle, his shoulders slumped in defeat. Behind him, the Chargers made sure the demon was indeed dead. As Cassandra joined him, he glanced up at the sky, his expression grim. “He’s gone. I’ll never find him. We could keep searching, but will it always be like this? Failure after failure.”

Cassandra cocked her head at him. She then deadpanned, “Look on the bright side. At least this time, it is not Varric lying and saying he does not know where he is.”

...

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen: Altercations

 

SweetFuckingMaker!

Rayvin blocked the giant’s club from smashing into him with the Warblade and swiftly rolled away. That was close, too close. He found his feet, stood up and whirled his sword about in a deadly storm of flashing steel. The large blade opened a jagged gash across the giant’s midsection, causing it to bellow in pain.

The giant staggered away, still roaring in its guttural language. Though hurt, it was still a dangerous foe, and both combatants knew it.

But Rayvin wouldn’t back down. He wouldn’t run, wouldn’t retreat. He had never taken the easy way out of a tough fight. He wasn’t about to begin now. Pressing forward, he slashed at the giant again. This time his blade scored a hit across one of the creature’s tree-trunk-sized thighs, eliciting another bellow. He dodged the blow that followed, a meaty fist meant to pulverize his skull and whirled about, striking hard.

As he landed his next hit, he caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye and heard the twang of an arrow being shot from a bow. It sailed over his head, sinking into the giant’s upper chest with a loud ‘plunk.’ Two more arrows followed in rapid succession, each hitting the giant in the chest. Rayvin wasn’t sure where the arrows were coming from, but he certainly wasn’t going to object to the help. Whoever the mystery archer was, they were doing some damage. The giant showed signs of slowing, its counterattacks sloppy.

As the fourth arrow struck near its neck, Rayvin caught sight of a redheaded female advancing, her bow drawn, an arrow nocked and ready to fire. From the opposite side of the camp, a war cry erupted from a the mouth of a silver-haired man, wearing armor with the caricature of a snarling wolf on the breastplate. He charged in, wielding a finely crafted longsword and shield and landed an impressive attack against the giant, hamstringing both of its legs.

The heavy club hit the ground just before the giant followed, spiralling down like a ragdoll. Rayvin drew back his Warblade, aiming for the head. His actions mirrored those of the aged warrior who had joined the fight. Both blades hit, sinking into the creature’s thick neck. Its body slumped as their combined blades decapitated its head.

Yet Rayvin didn’t let his guard down. Just because the two newcomers aided him with the giant didn’t mean they were friendly. He wasn’t about to assume anything. If this land had taught him anything, it was that everything seemed to attack first. Shouldering the large blade, he eyed the two warriors. Now that the female had drawn closer, he noticed the three green slashes of warpaint she wore on her face and her odd armor. It looked old, deep brown leather with accents of fur, metallic pauldrons and green arm pieces. Her dark red hair brushed her shoulders and he could make out a smattering of freckles beneath her warpaint.

The older warrior, however, gave off the impression he’d been forged in the fires of many battles. His face bore scars and he had one milky white eye, suggesting he was blind in that eye. Two slashes of red warpaint decorated his cheeks beneath his eyes. He also wore armor like Rayvin had never seen. He was almost certain it was some sort of hide, but it had been meticulously crafted with the caricature of the howling wolf on the chest. Could it be made of wolf hide? Whatever it was made from, it certainly wasn’t the mismatched assortment he’d seen on the bandits he’d fought recently. That in itself put him a bit at ease, but not enough to drop his guard entirely.

But it was the redheaded female that spoke up as she swaggered over to him, clutching her bow in hand. “You fight well, but taking on a giant by yourself will get you killed.”

Rayvin arched a brow at her. “I can take care of myself, Red.”

She smirked in response. “Clearly because flailing about on the ground while the giant turns you into pulp is ‘taking care of yourself’.”

“Enough!” The older warrior growled, sheathing his sword and replacing his shield on his back. “Let us be on our way, Aela. We have a job to complete. If this whelp hasn’t the sense to be thankful for a helping hand, he’ll end in an early grave.”

“Just who are you calling a whelp, old man? I have fought and killed dragons and demons and things you can’t even imagine.” Hawke shot back. “I’m no stranger to battle. I appreciate the assistance, but I don’t take kindly to insults.”

The older warrior shook his head, his lip curling disdainfully. Something seemed off, different about this whelp. His skill was apparent, but even Companions didn’t take on giants on their own. His heightened senses were on high alert. What was it about this whelp that had him on edge? Something didn’t smell right, but he couldn’t place what it was. He’d been all over Tamriel, seen and fought things few had, but he had never come across anyone like this whelp. His armor was like nothing he’d ever seen. Same for the large sword so casually slung over his shoulders.

“Willing to back that up?”

Aela glanced over at her partner, her brow raising. “Skjor?”

“The Companions are always looking for skilled warriors to join our ranks. If you think you have the heart to backup your skill, seek us in Whiterun. Come, Aela.” He nodded his head at her and the two turned to leave.

Rayvin rubbed the back of his neck. What the hell! That was strange. “Who are the Companions?” He called out at their retreating backs.

“Come to Whiterun and find out,” was the only answer he received.

He exhaled slowly, shaking his head, and then took a moment to view the camp around him. He stepped over the dead giant, focusing on the odd glowing purple tree in the middle of a shallow pool of water. He recalled the Orc he had met shortly before he had attacked the giant said something about needing some sap from the tree. Perhaps it was special.

A spigot protruded from the tree, suggesting that tapping the tree for its sap was common. Searching his pack, he found an empty potion vial and proceeded to fill it with the sap. Once he had enough, he left the tree. Upon further examination of the surrounding area, he found a cave and carefully crept in. The cave itself wasn’t overly large, a small cavern. It reeked of death and rot. A small fire blazed in one corner, illuminating the interior. Atop a large flat rock lay the carcass of a cow. Rayvin surmised that the giant he and the two Companions killed used this cave as its lair. In a pile at the back of the cave were a few sabre cat pelts as well as a few vials of what Rayvin assumed could be more of the sap. A glint drew his gaze once the pelts had been moved, revealing a few coins. He stashed the goods in his pack and left the cave behind.

At the edge of the camp stood the Orc he’d met before he’d fought the giant. His reappearance certainly wasn’t a surprise. Hawke surmised the Orc wanted the sap. Didn’t mean he was going to get it. Hawke swaggered over, balancing his greatsword across his shoulders. “What do you want, ugly?”

Ulag curled his upper lip. “I want the sap from the tree. I saw you tap it. Hand it over and I won’t have to take it from your fool corpse.”

Rayvin burst out laughing, “You and what army?”

Defeating the Orc hadn’t taken much effort. For all Ulag’s boasting, he couldn’t match Rayvin. They never listened. Rayvin shook his head and cleaned the blood off his blade, wiping it on the leather armor the deceased wore. He quickly searched the body, finding little of value, but found a note from a woman named Ysolda in Whiterun. She wanted him to bring her the sap from the tree. So that was why he wanted it. Rayvin stashed it in his pack. He had no plans to head for Whiterun anytime soon, but when he did he’d see if this Ysolda was still interested in the sap.

Leaving the odd purple tree, he continued to trek across the plains. Outcroppings of rock, some of looked like they’d been dropped haphazardly by colossal beings or placed by some mad hatter designer eons ago and left to be worn down by the elements. The occasional coniferous tree broke the rolling landscape before him. The tundra grass grew tall, almost up to his knees, little sprigs catching on his greaves. Further breaking the vast prairie were slow moving, babbling streams. He could spot what looked like mubcrabs at the water’s edge and decided to avoid them. It wasn’t that mubcrabs were a predator to be feared. Quite the opposite, he found them to be annoying.

A couple bandits emerged from a nearby cave. Their lair, Hawke presumed. Drawn out by the lure of a lone wanderer to challenge him, thinking him to be easy prey. They soon found out they were wrong. Dead wrong. He shook his head as he looted from them a small amount of gold. They wouldn’t need it now.

In a small valley sheltered by a wall of rock, Hawke came upon two tall pillars and what looked like a shrine between them and two braziers. He approached it curiously. What was this shrine for and to whom? He had learned that this land had multiple gods and even demigods. Was this dedicated to one of them? The offerings littering the pedestal the shrine sat upon certainly alluded to that.

He rubbed his chin thoughtfully before reaching out the touch the shrine in the middle. This was new to him, what looked like a horn pouring water into a basin, but forged from metal the likes of which he’d never encountered. Golden light flooded his vision, blinding him momentarily, and he felt few body aches disappear. Healing. This had to be something divine or at least magical.

His gaze flicked over the offerings, mostly gold and gems. Nothing that tempted him, except for the book sitting to the left side of the shrine. Knowledge, however, was power, and he wanted to learn as much about this place as he could. He picked it up, perusing the cover. Twin Secrets was the title on the cover. He flipped through the pages. It seemed to be a treatise on enchanting. Moreover, a tale of an enchanter's demise from a perilous experiment. Intriguing. It seemed mages were capable of enchanting things here, not like just Dwarves or Tranquil in his world. If he could learn magic and how to enchant, he’d be capable of things no human in Thedas could do, not without going mad, that is. This place, he mused, the possibilities were endless. Was that why he had been brought here? To do the impossible. Alas, he’d never really know for sure.

The sound of a boot scraping against rock alerted him that he was no longer alone. He raised his hand up, gripping the Warblade, and turned to face the source of the noise.

“You really shouldn’t take the offerings from the shrine.” A fresh faced red headed young man said as he eyed Hawke.

“And are you going to stop me?”Rayvin cocked an eyebrow. This kid wasn’t a threat, not by any means. He wear farm clothes and despite the fact he carried a sword on his belt, the kid looked green.

“No, I won’t, but I’ve heard tales of those who violate Stendarr’s shrines. He is the God of Justice,” the young man said, keeping his distance from the armored warrior in front of him. He wasn’t a fool. He had no armor and didn’t have much combat training.

Hawke laughed, “So he’ll smite me for picking up a book.” Shaking his head, he turned slightly, dropping a pouch of gold he’d taken from one of the bandits he’d fought earlier in place of the book. “Happy now?”

“It’s not me you should be asking,” came the young man’s answer with a smirk.

Hawke blew out an exasperated breath and mentally counted to five before addressing him. “What the fuck?! Are you a caretaker?”

“No, my name is Erik. I live in the village of Rorikstead. I was at Gjukar’s Monument to the west of here when I saw a golden light. I came to investigate. It is often said that Stendarr ‘suffered Men to read,’ which is why the book might be here.”

“By that token, I should be fine. If He wanted Men to read and I read it, I should earn no smitings. Look, kid, run along. Sun’s getting mighty low and from what I’ve seen, these plains aren’t kindly to lone wanderers.” Though it was nice to talk to someone, this young man, Erik, was getting on his nerves.

Erik shrugged. “I grew up around here. I know the dangers, probably better than you. In fact, I want to be an adventurer like you, but my father says I can’t.”

Rayvin shook his head. “Whatever point you’re dancing around, the answer is no. You don’t have a rat’s ass clue about what’s really out there, boy. I’ve fought dragons, giants, and demons. I’ve fought in wars and rebellions. I’ve watched almost everyone I ever loved die. You… you’re not ready for that. Go home to little village, farm boy. You won’t end up as an adventurer. You’ll just be another corpse.”

He set the book back on the shrine, propped up by the pouch of gold then turned away, heading back the way he came.

“You’re wrong.” Erik called out, his voice wavering. “I don’t know who you think you are, but you’re wrong.”

Hawke stopped in his tracks and glanced back. “I’m the Champion of Kirkwall.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty: Transformations

Curiosity got the better of Rayvin and he doubled back, heading west. In the distance he could make out a tall pillar. That had to be the monument the young man had spoken of.  Night crept upon him quickly as the sun slunk below the horizon so he decided to make camp near a babbling brook. He’d investigate the monument come morning.

After a quick meal, he washed up in the stream. What he wouldn’t give for a long soak in a hot bath. But he figured that wasn’t about to happen any time soon so this would have to suffice. A soft bed would also be very nice he lamented as he shook out his bedroll and settled down for the night.

Sleep evaded him for most of the night. Too much on his mind. The sky had barely begun to lighten and in the pre-dawn hours, he broke camp and packed up then set off again, heading in the direction of the monument.

He encountered a few mangy wolves which he made short work of cutting down as he crossed the plain. As he reached the monument, he glanced around. Besides the tall pillar there weren’t much remaining, a few other crumbling standing stones, but the whole area had an aura about it that made him feel ill at ease. Battles had been fought here and much blood had been spilled. It reminded him of what he had felt at Ostagar or in certain places in Kirkwall where the Veil was very thin. It made him wonder why the young man had been here. Paying tribute to ancestors, he surmised, as he spotted a number of weapons and shields littering the ground around the base of the monument itself. He planted one of the swords he’d taken off the skeletons he’d defeated at the last ruin into the ground at the base and stepped back to admire his contribution. It looked like it belonged there. He smiled with satisfaction and looked on.

There was a town in the distance. He surmised that must be Rorikstead. With luck they’d have an inn or perhaps a tavern. This might be a place he could find out some information. As it turned out, Rorikstead consisted of no more than three farms and an inn. A few guardsmen wearing the livery of Whiterun hold patrolled one end of the tiny hamlet to the other, which wasn’t very far. If not for the fact that Rorikstead was situated so near the border of The Reach, there might not have been any guardsmen at all. With such close proximity, there was always a danger of raids. Blood-soaked camps full of Nord-hating Forsworn warriors littered the hills.

The inn sat back from the road. Off to one side was a small fenced pasture where two cows grazed. Beyond that was a small wood and stone house with a thatched roof. Sitting around an open flame was an older man and two little girls who attentively listened to the tale he wove. The other two farmsteads that made up the rest of the hamlet seemed to be prospering quite well. The crops in the fields flourished under the warmth of the early morning sun. This seemed like such a peaceful little place. Quiet. Maybe too quiet. It made Rayvin wonder what kind of dirty little secret was being hidden here in this little town. Not that it was any of his business.

The inn was all but empty. There was only one other patron besides himself and the innkeeper. That was to be expected, though. He couldn’t imagine the population being very high considering there were only a few buildings.

He tossed a small coin pouch on the counter. “Gimme something strong,” he ordered and perched himself on a barstool.

The man behind the counter stopped what he was doing and stared down the newcomer who’d barked an order for alcohol. “I hope you’re not looking for trouble, stranger.”

“Nope, just want a drink.”

The innkeeper reached underneath the counter and grabbed a bottle of Firebrand Wine, setting it front of Hawke. “It’s a little early to be drinking, don’t you think?”

Rayvin cocked a brow and grabbed the bottle up. “Nope, not at all. As far as I’m concerned, it’s drinking time somewhere. Besides, I didn’t ask for your opinion. I pay you and you give me booze.”

“What brings you to Rorikstead?”

After taking a long draw from the bottle, Rayvin wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “What’s it to you?”

The innkeeper shrugged, “Nothing I suppose. Just never seen you around here before. I’m Mralki. I own this inn. You cause trouble I will throw you out myself. I don’t barter or trade. I only take real coin. Need anything else, just ask.” He picked up the coin purse Hawke had tossed in front of him and counted the contents. There was more than enough to pay for the Firebrand Wine.

“Got any whiskey stashed behind your counter?” Rayvin asked.

Mralki flashed an odd look at him. “Afraid not. You’ll be hard pressed to find whiskey in Skyrim. Maybe in Solitude. Last time I had any was during the Great War in Cyrodiil some thirty years ago.”

Rayvin’s eyes grew large from disbelief. “You’re shitting me. How do you people live without it?”

“We drink mead usually. There’s a damn fine meadery not far from here in Whiterun called Honningbrew Meadery and down in Riften, you’ll find Black-Briar Meadery.”

Rayvin pulled a face. “Mead, ugh. Give me a good old rye any day.” No whiskey made him miss Thedas even more. “How far away is Whiterun? And where in Whiterun will I find the Companions?”

“Whiterun is a few hours ride from here. And the Companions? Ask for them at Jorrvaskr.”

“Jorrvaskr? What’s that?” Rayvin gave a confused look.

Mralki pursed his lips, looking him over once more. “You obviously aren’t from around here if you haven’t heard of Jorrvaskr. It’s famous. The mead hall of the Companions. Sits in the middle of the Wind District of Whiterun. Looks like an upturned ship. The Skyforge adjoins it. Best steel in Skyrim comes from the Skyforge. Eorlund Gray Mane works it. Ain’t no better smith in Skyrim than him.”

Rayvin pulled out his map and laid it out. “Could you mark it for me?”

Mralki glanced over the map. “Whiterun is right here on the map. Follow this road to get there.” He traced the route with his finger. “If you have any trouble at the gates of Whiterun, just tell them you came from Rorikstead. They’ll let you in.”

“Much appreciated,” Rayvin said in thanks. Then glanced thoughtfully at the map. “Do you know much about The Reach?”

The balding innkeeper rubbed his jaw, “I try to avoid The Reach. It’s full of wild animals and Forsworn, bloodthirsty savages who’d just as soon kill you as look at you. Nothing good happens in that godsforsaken place.”

Rayvin grinned, “I’ve fought my fair share of them since I came here. You wouldn’t happen to have heard of Rebel’s Cairn, would you?”

Looking over the map once more, he made a mark. “I’ve heard of it. I believe it’s in this vicinity.”

Rayvin glanced over at the area Mralki designated and compared it to his other map, surmising that Rebel’s Cairn wasn’t far from the camp where he found the book and the sword in the first place. Amariel had called that big camp Red Eagle Redoubt  along with Sundered Towers. Now all he had to do was find his way back there. He would sometime soon. He was interested in the legend he read about in the book, but that was for another day.

“So what was the Great War? I take it you fought in it. You have the look of a retired warrior.”

Mralki met a good many travelers from all over Tamriel, but he wasn’t sure what to make of the man in front of him. He had the look of a Nord, but knew nothing of Skyrim. He didn’t look like he was from Cyrodiil or High Rock and there was no way he could hail from Hammerfell. He certainly wasn’t an elf. “The Great War was fought down in Cyrodiil between the Imperial forces and the Aldmeri Dominion… elves… about thirty years ago. The conflict lasted only four years, but it nearly destroyed the Empire. We defeated the blasted elves, but lost the right to worship Talos in the process.”

“Talos?”

“Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of Talos? Where have you been? Did you crawl out from under a rock?” Mralki stared at Hawke as if he’d sprouted an extra head.

“I’m not from here and don’t ask me to explain it because I can’t. My home is far, far away and I have no way back. All I know I’ve been told that some Daedra has meddled in things.”

Mralki looked unconvinced, a frown deepening. “And here I thought the Dragonborn being a woman was the strangest thing I’d heard in a while. Are you sure you haven’t had too much to drink?”

Rayvin laughed out loud, “Hardly. This is barely enough to get a good buzz.”

“If you say so.”

“So tell me about Talos. Now that I think about it, I've heard that name before. Someone I met after I arrived here tried to explain some things to me. She’s a Bosmer. I met her out in The Reach. She told me about the kinds of elves living here and mentioned the Aldmeri Dominion.”

“Talos was also known as Tiber Septim. He conquered all of Tamriel and founded the Empire. He was also Dragonborn.”

“So why is worship of Talos outlawed if he’s the founder of the Empire?”

“His deeds were so great in life that he was raised to divinity. The Dominion claimed since he was a mortal man that he isn’t divine and thus outlawed worship of Talos. Thalmor Justiciars roam about Skyrim, arresting any one they suspect of worshiping him. They’ve been known to kill priests and any one they find at any shrine of Talos. The only one they don’t have access to yet is the one in Windhelm because it’s the home of the Stormcloak rebellion. Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak uses the fact that Talos has been outlawed to wage civil war, but his motives are strictly selfish. Everyone knows he murdered High King Torygg in cold blood.”

“I heard about that in Falkreath. It had something about him escaping from Helgen where he’d been brought for execution. A dragon attacked and destroyed the town.” Rayvin picked up his bottle and glanced around the inn. It looked like there were rooms. He could stay here until tomorrow then be on his way. Spend the night in a bed. Maybe even see if the inn had bath facilities. “Thanks for the information. It hasn’t been easy lately. Not everyone has been willing to sit and talk. How much for one of those rooms for a day?”

Mralki quoted him a price and Rayvin handed over the coin.

“Any chance I could get a tub brought in?”

“I’ll have my son bring it into your room whenever you’re ready for it.”

Rayvin nodded his thanks and wandered off to the other side of the inn where he found a chair in a corner. He removed his Warblade from his back, resting it against the chair, made himself comfortable and reached into his pack. He rummaged around and pulled out one of the books he had found. This one was a treatise on conjuration magic. He read through the pages with keen interest. Magic had always fascinated him. Digging into his pack once more, he fished out one of the simpler spell books. Flames. Amariel had started to help him learn a basic elemental spell. Maybe her advice coupled with this book would be enough. He knew he could do it.

His father had always said creation magic – healing – was much harder than any other and he had learned the healing spell without any difficulty. Perhaps he shouldn’t practice in the common room of an inn, though. He did, however, read through the spell book.

As he closed the book everything Amariel had said made sense. Even things he remembered his father teaching Bethany when she was learning to control her magic. He cupped his palm, concentrating on warmth and heat. He imagined fire licking at his skin, coursing from his fingertips, and gasped as a flame appeared in his hand. He closed his palm and tried it again, watching as flames shot out a few feet in front of him. “Holy shit!”

“Be careful with that fire,” Mralki barked from behind the counter.

“Won’t happen again.” He stashed the spell book and pulled out a different one. This one was Sparks. Must be a minor lightning cantrip. No, best not attempt this one. He could wait. The next book he drew out was the storybook called Night Falls on Sentinel by Boali. He drank from the bottle of Firebrand as he delved into the story.

No music played in the Nameless Tavern in Sentinel, and indeed there was very little sound except for discreet, cautious murmurs of conversation, the soft pad of the barmaid’s feet on stone, and the delicate slurping of the regular patrons, tongues lapping at the flagons, eyes focused on nothing at all. If anyone were otherwise occupied, the sight of the young Redguard woman in a fine black cape might have aroused surprise. Even suspicion. As it were, the strange figure, out of place in an underground cellar so modest it had no sign, blended into the shadows.

“Are you Jomic?”

The stout, middle-aged man with a face older than his years looked up and nodded. He returned to his drink. The young woman took the seat next to him.

“My name is Haballa,” she said and pulled out a small bag of gold, placing it next to his mug.

“Sure it be,” snarled Jomic, and met her eyes again. “Who d’you want dead?”

She did not turn away, but merely asked, “Is it safe to talk here?”

“No one cares about nobody else’s problems but their own here. You could take off your cuirass and dance bare-breasted on the table, and no one’d even spit,” the man smiled. “So  who d’you want dead?”

“No one, actually,” said Haballa. “The truth is, I only want someone … removed, for a while. Not harmed, you understand, and that’s why I need a professional. You come highly recommended.”

“Who you been talking to?” asked Jomic dully, returning to his drink.

“A friend of a friend of a friend of a friend.”

“One of them friends don’t know what he’s talking about,” grumbled the man. “I don’t do that anymore.”

Haballa quietly took out another purse of gold and then another, placing them at the man’s elbow. He looked at her for a moment and then poured the gold out and began counting. As he did, he asked, “Who d’you want removed?”

“Just a moment,” smiled Haballa, shaking her head. “Before we talk details, I want to know that you’re a professional, and you won’t harm this person very much. And that you’ll be discreet.”

“You want discreet?” the man paused his counting. “Awright, I’ll tell you about an old job of mine. It’s been – by Arkay, I can hardly believe it – more’n twenty years, and no one but me’s alive who had anything to do with this job. This is back afore the time of the War of Betony, remember that?”

“I was just a baby.”

“’Course you was,” Jomic smiled. “Everyone knows that King Lhotun had an older brother Greklith that died, right? And then he’d got his older sister Aubuki, what married that King fella in Daggerfall. But the truth’s that he had two elder brothers.”

“Really?” Haballa’s eyes glistened with interest.

“No lie,” he chuckled. “Weedy, feeble fella called Arthago, the King and Queen’s first born. Anyhow, this prince was heir to the throne, which his parents wasn’t too thrilled about, but then the Queen she squeezed out two more princes who looked a lot more fit. That’s when me and my boys got hired on, to make it look like the first prince got took off by the Underking or some such story.”

“I had no idea!” the young woman whispered.

“Of course you didn’t, that the point,” Jomic shook his head. “Discretion, like you said. We bagged the boy, dropped him off deep in an old ruin, and that was that. No fuss. Just a couple of fellas, a bag, and a club.”

“That’s what I’m interested in,” said Haballa. “Technique. My… friend who needs taken care of is weak also, like this Prince. What is the club for?”

“It’s a tool. So many things what was better in the past ain’t around no more, just ‘cause people today prefer ease of use to what works right. Let me explain: there’re seventy-one prime pain centers in an average fella’s body. Elves and Khajiiti, being all sensitive and all, three and four more respectively. Argonians and Sloads, almost as many as fifty-two and sixty-seven,” Jomic used his short stubby finger to point out each region on Haballa’s body. “Six on your forehead, two on your brow, two on your nose, seven in your throat, ten in your chest, nine in your abdomen, three in each arm, twelve in your groin, four in your favored leg, five in the other.”

“That’s sixty-three,” replied Haballa.

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is,” the young lady cried back, indignant that her mathematical skills were being questioned. “Six plus two plus two plus seven plus ten plus nine plus three in one arm plus three for the other plus twelve plus four plus five. Sixty-three.”

“I must’ve left some out,” shrugged Jomic. “The important part is that to become skilled with a staff or club, you gotta be a master of these pain centers. Done right, a light tap could kill, or knock out without so much as a bruise.”

“Fascinating,” smiled Haballa. “And no one ever found out?”

“Why would they? The boy’s parents, the King and Queen, they’re both dead now. The other children thought their brother got carried off by the Underking. That’s what everyone thinks. And all my partners are dead.”

“Of natural causes?”

“Ain’t nothing natural that ever happens in the Bay, you know that. One fella got sucked up by one of them Selenu. Another died of that same plague that took the Queen and Prince Greklith. ‘Nother fella got hisself beat up to death by a burglar. You gotta keep low, outta sight, like me, if you wanna stay alive.” Jomic finished counting the coins. “You must want this fella out of the way bad. Who is it?”

“It’s better if I show you,” said Haballa, standing up. Without a look back, she strode out of the Nameless Tavern.

Jomic drained his beer and went out. The night was cool with an unrestrained wind surging off the water of the Iliac Bay, sending leaves flying like whirling shards. Haballa stepped out of the alleyway next to the tavern, and gestured to him. As he approached her, the breeze blew open her cape, revealing the armor beneath and the crest of the King of Sentinel.

The fat man stepped back to flee, but she was too fast. In a blur, he found himself in the alley on his back, the woman’s knee pressed firmly against his throat.

“The King has spent years since he took the throne looking for you and your collaborators, Jomic. His instructions to me what to do when I found you were not specific, but you’ve given me an idea.”

From her belt, Haballa removed a small, sturdy cudgel.

A drunk stumbling out of the bar heard a whimpered moan accompanied by a soft whisper coming from the darkness of the alley: “Let’s keep better count this time. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven…”

The book had been an enjoyable read. It reminded him of the stories Varric would tell at the Hanged Man. At the beginning, he almost could have seen Isabela in the role of Haballa, but by the end, he had changed his mind and had decided that Aveline made for a better fit. By the time Rayvin had finished reading a few more people had come into the inn, including the young man who wanted to be an adventurer. He made a beeline over to where Rayvin sat and pulled up a chair beside him. The young man flashed a wide smile at him.

“Remember me? I see you found your way to Rorikstead.” He chatted amiably with a smile on his face.

“What do you want, boy?” Rayvin asked, tersely.

“Is that your sword? I’ve never seen anything like it.” He extended his hand and just as he was about to touch it, Rayvin slapped his hand away.

“Do not fucking touch it! You want to lose that hand. Touching a man’s weapon is like touching his lover. You don’t do it.” Rayvin glared at him, his sapphire eyes piercing a hole through the young man.

The redhead scooted his chair a few feet away, wide-eyed with fear. Just about every other warrior who had stopped at the inn had let him look at their swords, even one of the Companions once. The Companion had even encouraged him to come to Whiterun to join, to talk to Kodlak Whitemane. “Sorry! I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s so different from anything I’ve ever seen. Same with your armor. Where’s it from? What’s it made of? Did it come from the Skyforge?”

Rayvin let out a sigh. Of course the kid hadn’t gotten the hint. Seemed to be pretty thickheaded. He cursed under his breath before turning another glare at him.

 “Nope, it’s not from the Skyforge. It’s called the Champion’s Armor and Warblade, not sure what it’s made of, but I suspect it’s made of dragonbone and scales. Run along, kid. I don’t feel like playing twenty questions with a wet behind the ears greenhorn. Besides, you’re interrupting my drinking.”

“You’ve killed dragons, that’s what you said at the shrine. What’s it like to face down a dragon? I saw one flying around in the distance. It’s been thousands of years since dragons were last seen in Skyrim. Everyone says the Dragonborn killed one at Whiterun and then the Greybeards summoned the Dragonborn to High Hrothgar. I also heard the Dragonborn is a woman and she joined the Companions. I don’t think they’d actually let me join, but I’m sure they’d take you.”

He prattled on for a while longer and for the most part Rayvin tuned him out, focusing on his drink. When it was empty, however, he had no other recourse but to get up and get another. This one he’d take to his room and he didn’t want to be followed.

Growling at the bothersome young man, “Take the hint and go away, boy. I have no fucking tales for you,” he pushed out of his seat and headed for the innkeeper, ordering another bottle.

Mralki placed a bottle of Argonian Bloodwine on the counter and took the coins Rayvin handed him. “Erik isn’t being too much of a nuisance, is he?” He motioned to his redheaded son.

“Erik, huh? He your son?” Rayvin uncorked the bottle and took a swig, “How ‘bout you teach that boy some fucking manners, eh? He wants to be an adventurer. Fuck that. I’ve told him once already he has no clue what’s out there. He’ll end up a corpse. Drill that through his thick skull before I drag him out back and beat some sense into him, like you should have.”

He pushed away from the counter and retired to the room he had rented, taking the bottle with him. Maker have mercy on that boy if he dared to follow.

***

Rayvin left the Frostfruit Inn behind middle of the next afternoon after he’d eaten and had taken a long hot bath. It felt good to soak in the tub, despite the fact it wasn’t nearly big enough to accommodate his large frame. He followed the road of town heading back the way he’d come. He wasn’t sure if he’d go to Whiterun, but at least he knew how to get there now.

A few hours after he’d set out from the inn, an elven female with grey skin and crimson eyes jumped out from behind a bush. She brandished a dagger at him.

“Hand over your valuables and no one gets hurt,” she sneered coldly.

Rayvin chucked derisively and kept walking. “Nice try, but keep at it.”

Anger clouded the elf’s eyes. She wasn’t about to let this n’wah ignore her. She tumbled up ahead of him, sprang up on her feet and jabbed the dagger in his face. “I said hand over your valuables, Nordling.”

“Not happening, Elfling. You don’t stand a chance in the Void against me with that little pigsticker. Not even if I had one hand tied behind my back. Run along before you hurt yourself.” He glanced down at her with an amused look on his face.

“Then we shall see. I’ll take what I want from your fool corpse.”

Before Rayvin could draw the Warblade, the dark elf had wreathed herself in flames. Though he had never seen such a spell, he found it to be impressive and he damn sure wanted to learn it. All in good time , he cautioned himself. Take care of obnoxious elf first. Learn the spell later.

He dodged the strike of the elf’s dagger and unsheathed the Warblade, brandishing it in front of him.

He drew the weapon back, slamming the flat side into the elf’s midsection with an arcing blow, hoping to knock her back. The sword met with a resounding thud, suggesting the brown leather she wore was heavier than it seemed. Maybe it was reinforced with a mail shirt underneath. He wasn’t sure. She cried out in pain, and lurched out of range for the moment as she planned her next move.

She launched a spear made out of ice from her palm straight at him. He hissed at the chilling sensation it caused as it struck true. He had fought many mages in his lifetime, usually blood mages. He wasn’t about to fall to one in this world. That would be plain insulting. He knew one thing for certain, this bitch was annoying him. It was better to end her quickly, no matter how much he wanted to play with her.

He swung with all the strength he could muster at the nimble foe before him. The edge of the blade sank into the elven thief’s neck and sliced like a hot knife through butter, lopping off her head. The rest of the body collapsed to the ground.

Guess it ended up being the would be thief getting robbed. He searched her body thoroughly, stowing a few pretty baubles away as well as a coin purse. He really didn’t want to leave her headless corpse lying in the road, though. Glancing around, he took note of familiar surroundings. The grotto where Sinding had taken refuge was close by. He’d return there. Besides, he couldn’t think of a better time than the present to collect on a debt. He even had something to offer the werewolf should Sinding be in that form.

***

Dragging the dark elf corpse into the grotto, he called out for Sinding. When he received no answer, he delved deeper in, searching through the winding passages until he came to the heart of the sanctuary. Rayvin found Sinding there, building a small shelter.

“Hawke,” Sinding looked surprised. “You’ve come back.”

He wasn’t expecting this so soon. Surprise turned to suspicion and he eyed the tall, dark haired warrior who had helped him warily.

“I have and I’ve even brought you something. Let me bring it to you.”

He tossed the corpse at Sinding’s feet upon his return. “It’s relatively fresh. Still has its heart.”

Sinding’s eyes grew to the size of saucers, his brows sliding into his hairline as he gaped at Hawke incredulously. “What do you mean? What do you want? Speak plainly, friend.”

“I want to become what you are so I brought you an offering. She attacked me on the road not far from here.” Rayvin began. “I want you to turn me into a werewolf. I’ve given this a lot of thought. I want this.”

Sinding shook his head. “No, Hawke. You don’t. You only think you do. Carrying the beast blood is a terrible burden. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. You can’t possibly know what a torment the hunger is, the rage and bloodlust. It’s not a blessing. It’s a curse and you’d be a fool to ask for it. I won’t be the one who bestows it upon you.”

Rayvin took a good long look at the man in front of him. In many ways, he looked pale and sickly, even weak. His frame was lean and lanky, like he had been deprived for far too long. There was something haunted in his eyes, as if he had been a witness to untold horrors.

Yet all Rayvin felt was something kindred.

“I do not ask this of you lightly. Where I am from, werewolves are creatures of legend. But I know they exist for real. They walk the dark and haunted depths of the ancient forests where few dare to tread. I am strong enough to bear the burden. I wear the ring uncursed. I was given a blessing by Hircine. I am alone in a land that is not my own. I am willing to take on the risk if it means I survive to make it back to where I belong. I want this.”

Sinding paced back and forth. Hawke seemed sincere in his desire for the beast blood. He also seemed like he could handle it. Still he was hesitant.  There was also the fact that Hircine was easy to anger. Hawke might have the Lord of the Hunt’s favor, but he did not and was not looking forward to more hunters invading his lair with the mandate to rip the skin from his carcass in order to make it an offering to the Daedric Lord.

“Let me think about it.”

Rayvin gave him the time and space he needed, retreating back to outer chamber of the grotto. He pitched his tent near a shallow stream and started a fire. Three days and three nights passed before Sinding came to Rayvin with an answer.

“There’s a blood moon tonight. If you still desire the beast blood, we will do it then. Be absolutely sure this is what you want. While there are potions of cure disease, they won’t completely remove the beast blood. I know of no complete cure for what will be afflicted upon you.” Sinding sat down across from Rayvin at his fire. He then launched into an explanation of things Rayvin would need to know about the beast blood, of the side effects. Sleep would be fitful and he’d have to be mindful of the moon cycles. Full moons cause an immediate change. Stamina and vigor would see an increase. In beast form, he’d have razor-sharp claws and teeth and he’d be able to move swiftly. He’d also be completely resistant to diseases.

The downside was most people in Skyrim feared and hated werewolves. The Silver Hand hunted any kind of lycanthrope as do the Vigilantes of Stendarr.

“My mind is made up. I want this and I know without a shadow of a doubt that I can handle it.” Determination burned in his eyes. His voice and his resolve was strong. He was ready.

Sinding nodded. “Come with me. We shall prepare,” he said.

***

Rayvin watched as Sinding transformed into a great beast. The werewolf had already described to him how this was going to work. Or how his transformation would happen and what he would experience. Being bitten was traumatic and the resulting change was often brutal. Therefore, Sinding didn’t want to subject him to that. He led Rayvin to a small part of the grotto where a large stone basin stood. He also suggested Rayvin remove all of his armor, stripping down to bare flesh. It would make the initial transformation from man to beast go smoother and it wouldn’t result in his armor being destroyed.

Sinding held out a ceremonial dagger to Rayvin, leaving his arm extended. “Take this. Make a cut on my forearm. Do it quickly. I don’t have a whole lot of control over my faculties.”

Rayvin did as the werewolf directed him to do, spilling a small amount of blood into the basin.

“Now drink.”

Drinking blood… beast blood. Rayvin remembered when he had become a Reaver. The ritual he had went through, drinking dragon’s blood mixed with other ingredients. Now the blood of the wolf would mix with the blood of the dragon. It was the reason he knew he could withstand it and not let it drive him to madness.

Instead of scooping the blood up with his hands or some kind of cup, Rayvin went face first, drinking straight from the basin. It smeared across his face, his mouth, his lips and got into his hair. He swallowed eagerly, taking it all in. As the beast blood coursed through him, mixing with his own, he began to shake and moan. Heat assailed every inch of him, leaving him feeling like he was being cooked from the inside out. The shaking turned to convulsions. He collapsed to the ground, tortured cries coming from his lips.

Thick, black coarse hair grew all over his body, taking the place of his skin. It made him scream and howl even more as the sensation made him feel itchy. Intense pain shot through him and a haze of deep red appeared before his very eyes. Rage like he’d never felt before ripped through him as his skin stretched and split. His bones snapped and reformed into new positions and his jaw elongated into a snout. His jaw dislodged to make room for a massive, deadly maw and within that maw was a set of razor-sharp, flesh-tearing fangs. His human hands mangled, replaced by large, hairy, dangerously clawed paws of a beast. 

Once the transformation was complete, he struggled to his feet and let out a howl. Had there been anyone besides Sinding in the vicinity they would be wise to flee as quickly as their feet could carry them.

“Your eyes…” Sinding commented. He knew his own were like most common werewolves, a reddish-orange. But Hawke’s were different.

Rayvin’s throat felt odd, raw. “What about them?”

“They’re silver.”

“And that is different?”

“Yes. I don’t know what it means, but it marks you as different, special.”

“Oh, just lovely.”

Sinding shook his great wolven head. “Don’t let it worry you yet. Let us hunt.”

The two werewolves left the grotto behind and raced across the plains. They encountered a few bandits who easily fell to teeth and claws. The next camp they came upon was that of the Imperial Legion who had made a camp on the Whiterun Plains. These soldiers offered more of a challenge for the two, because there were more than a dozen, but even then they ripped through the camp, felling them. Claws tore through armor like knives through armor.

The beast threw one soldier to the ground and shredded his chest, ripping out and devouring his heart before he moved on another. This one he slapped the sword right out of his hand, lifted him off his feet and used a massive paw to rip his head off, decapitating him in one motion. He tossed the body aside as an outraged soldier charged at him.

Meeting the soldier head-on, he pounced upon him, tearing into him with his claws.

When it was all said and done, the two werewolves stood amongst carnage and death. All that was left to do was feed.

Once sated, they returned to the grotto. By that time, dawn was breaking and Rayvin returned to his human form.

“Is it always like that?”

“Like what?”

“Intense rage,” he said.

“Yes, my friend. Always.”

Rayvin let out a sigh. He accepted it for what it was. He had wanted it. Had dealt with rage as it was, but this… the beast blood made what was there even more intense. It had taken what he had felt with his Reaver abilities, drinking the dragon’s blood all those years ago in Ferelden, and took it to heights he never thought possible. Either this would turn him into a complete feral madman and consume him. Or it would temper him, turning him into the most efficient killer even known. Either way, it had changed him.

Whether or not it was for the better remained to be seen.

...

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One: Whiterun

 

Hawke woke in a cold sweat, a shout on his lips as the last vestiges of the nightmare he’d been having faded. Lashing out, he lurched out of his bedroll when he felt pressure on his shoulder. Eyes wide, his chest heaving, he scanned the immediate area, taking in everything. The sound of a beating heart pounding in his ears combined with the scent of pain and rage overloaded his senses. He instinctively understood the sounds and smells he was experiencing weren’t all his own, but were coming from someone else.

Sinding lay curled up in fetal position across the clearing, writhing in pain. A soft moan registered, slipping in passed the veil of rage and making him realize what had happened. Rayvin hastened to Sinding’s side, pushing aside the smaller man’s hands to get a good look at the damage he had caused. A curse slipped from his lips. A large bruise was forming in the middle of Sinding’s chest.

Regret surged through him. “Fuck, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

Sinding coughed, spitting up blood. “You were … screaming.” Another cough made his body shake. “I thought… I could wake… you.”

“I never thought to warn you about the nightmares. I can heal you. Or at least try.” Rayvin said weakly. He wasn’t sure if it would work. He had only ever healed himself. He concentrated on summoning the healing light to his hand. As the golden energy enveloped his hand, he pressed it gently to Sinding’s chest, letting the warmth of the spell flow from him into the blackened area.

Sinding let out another moan as the healing encompassed him. Breathing became easier and the large bruise faded away. He pushed up into an upright position, sitting cross-legged. “Thank you. I feel better now. I’ll know in the future not to wake up from a nightmare. I should have told you the beast blood makes things like nightmares more intense. You were screaming the name ‘Anders.’ I tried to shake your shoulder, but you grabbed a hold of me. Next thing I knew it I’d been hit hard enough to knock me across the clearing.”

Rayvin closed his eyes before he scrubbed his hands over his face. Anders. It was the same old nightmare of Anders dying at the hands of Sebastian Vael. But this one, it felt like he was back in that moment, watching as Sebastian ordered Anders’ torture, the look on the Prince’s face as Anders was made to suffer through everything they’d done to him. He hadn’t been satisfied with just breaking Anders. And there had been nothing Hawke could do to stop it. He’d fought against the shackles that held him. He had cursed at Sebastian, swore he’d pay for what he’d done when he got loose. But he’d done none of it. Anders was gone. And he had failed him. Sebastian had smugly let him go. After everything that had happened, he couldn’t let it go. Hadn’t forgiven himself for failure. Nothing seemed to dull the pain. Not drink. Not fighting. Not racing headlong into danger. Certainly not the beast blood.

If not for the drinking and fighting, he had nothing else. He couldn’t even bring himself to think of what he’d lost, to think of Cullen. Survival was what mattered right now.

“I have always had issues with rage, with nightmares. All of my family is dead. I don’t have anyone left. Sometimes I think I’d be better off dead too, but it’s not in my nature to take the easy way out,” he said as he started to gather up his things. He found the pieces of his armor and put it back on.

Sinding watched the man in front of him. He had gotten a good measure of who Hawke was since they had met. He actually cared more than he let on. Often used sarcasm or anger as a defense mechanism. He didn’t seem to want people to get too close. And it was all too clear that things bothered him more than he wanted to admit. Plus he sure seemed like he was quick to fight.

“Your family isn’t all dead. I’m not. You and I… we’re blood brothers now. Pack brothers. As I am your forebear, a part of me will always live on in you. And I will be here if you need a friend.”

Rayvin swallowed a heavy lump in his throat. He didn’t know how to respond, just felt the overwhelming emotion choking him. He hadn’t felt this way when he fell in with Bahir and Fenn, the two Chasind he’d learned the way of the Reaver from. He and Bahir had shared much, even a bed, but it was nothing like this. If Varric could see him now, he’d never believe it. Hawke… speechless… what was the world coming to?

He simply held out his hand and Sinding clasped it. Arm-in-arm they stood until Rayvin nodded, “To being blood brothers.”

 

***

The road leading to Whiterun was fairly straightforward and judging the distance, it shouldn’t take him more than an hour or so to get there on foot. As he drew closer, he could make out a large structure that towered over the city even from the distance he still was away. Even beyond that he could make out one of the largest mountains he’d ever seen. Thedas had some tall ones, especially in the Frostbacks, but he’d have to say the one in front of him in the distance was even bigger. He was willing to bet the views from atop it were nothing short of breathtaking.

He passed by a fort that had seen better days. From the looks of it bandits and other miscreants had moved in. Maybe he’d come back some night under a full moon and clean the place out. Shortly up ahead of him to his left were the remains of a burnt out farmstead and to the right a watchtower. The watchtower was also in ruins as well. It looked like a battle had taken place here recently. Scorch marks blackened the stones and whole sections of grass were burnt down to nothing. He had heard dragons had returned. That kid, Erik, had prattled on about a dragon attack at Whiterun. This certainly seemed like the spot. It made him wonder how long ago it had taken place. From what he had heard while he was in Falkreath, a large black dragon had leveled the town of Helgen several months ago. Everyone was still talking about the Dragonborn. Rayvin didn’t give a rat’s ass about a fucking Dragonborn. He did look forward to fighting another dragon, though. The battle with the one at the Bone Pit had been exhilarating all those years ago. Plus he really would have loved to have ripped Corypheus’ dragon at Adamant a new one. It made him chuckle as he thought back to the first time they faced that blighted magister at the ruins in the Vimmarks. The comment Varric had made... “If he pulls a dragon out of his ass, I’m leaving.”

He kept an even pace and within minutes, he had reached the Whiterun Stables. The road continued on towards the large mountain in the distance. To his right was a rather good sized farm. In front of him just past the stables was the city. Workers busied themselves with various tasks around the stables, which at present housed two fine looking horses. A few more grazed in a paddock to the left of the main building.

A woman in full armor stood talking to a man carrying a pitchfork out in front of the stables. Rayvin slowed his pace, overhearing most of the conversation.

“By Ysmir, it’s true. A jester – funny suit and all. Just north, by the Loreius Farm. Fool had a coffin in a cart, with a broken wheel. Like to see him laugh his way out of that.”

The stableman chuckled. “Well, sounds like you’ve had the journey, Uthgerd. But you were gone longer than usual. I got to thinking maybe you weren’t coming back…”

She scoffed, waving him off dismissively, “You sound like my ma. Figured I was lying dead in a field somewhere, is that it?”

“Thought did cross my mind, yeah. War brewing, Helgen destroyed, dragons coming back, and now jesters? Skyrim’s gone mad, girl. You need to be careful out there.”

A grin crossed her face, “Careful, huh? Thanks, Skulvar. I’ll remember that.” Then she let out a throaty laugh.

Rayvin put what he had overheard out of his mind as he picked up his pace once more. He turned his focus to what lay ahead of him. The city. What he noticed about it was the walls looked old. Old and crumbling. He expected a city in the middle of these vast plains to have better defenses or higher walls. Especially given the large palace at its apex. The road passed through a series of gates which could be locked down independently, though with careful study, he noted the weak points in the defenses. Any attacker could vault over the far barricades, run across and make it the gate controls, thus opening the inner gate.

A courtyard spanned the length between the inner gate and the main gate to the city. Armed guards flanked the main gate. They watched vigilantly for any trouble while other guards patrolled the length from the main gate to the outer gate. Others stood on top the barricades at intervals. He had heard in Rorikstead that Whiterun was a central trading hub for all of Skyrim and thus far, the Jarl had managed to stay neutral in the civil war. Most people opined that Balgruuf could only stay neutral for so long. Both the Empire and the Stormcloaks slobbered over Whiterun like a dog with a juicy bone. Most Nords believed Balgruuf would, in the end, side with the Empire. There was too much bad blood between him and Ulfric.

Rayvin approached the large main gate. No one made a move to stop him as he entered the city. He kept walking. The first thing he saw when he entered was a smithy and a dark haired woman working at the forge. There was a sign above the door which said Warmaiden’s . He stopped nearby, leaning against a post, and watched her work. He had known a few human smiths before, but usually their work wasn’t as good as anything that was dwarven made. Maybe he was biased considering his best friend was a dwarf. He remembered Harritt from Lothering. He had even found a few moments to slip down into the Skyhold Undercroft to speak to the man again. Harritt’s work had always consisted of good, solid pieces. Nothing special. Rayvin had heard that Dagna, the dwarven arcanist, had considered his work to be mundane and old-thinking.

Glancing at the weapons on display, however, he could tell that this woman’s work was very good. It hadn’t ever been a skill he thought he’d ever want to learn, but as he watched her hammer and shape the blade on the anvil, he felt nothing short of envy. Maybe this was something he could learn. Maybe it wasn’t too late to teach an old war dog a new trick. Perhaps he’d come back sometime.

Opposite of the smithy up on a slight hill was a shop or tavern perhaps called the Drunken Huntsman . Now that sounded like his kind of place. He hastened inside, finding an elf behind the counter that reminded him of Amariel. Perhaps this elf was Bosmeri like her.

“Ah, hello friend,” the elf smiled. “Do tell me you are in the market for some hunting supplies?”

The smoothness in the elf’s voice and his easy-going demeanor made Rayvin smile back. “I suppose I could have a look. I’ve wanted to pick up a better bow than the one I have. I’m not the best archer, but can usually manage to hit something for my dinner.”

He produced the bow he had been given at Hunter’s Rest and laid it on the counter. “Are you looking to make a trade?”

“Let me see what you have. Trading up would be preferable.” Rayvin had a good eye for weapons.

“I would be pleased to help you. I am called Elrindir.” He pulled out a number of different bows, starting from simple hunting bows like Rayvin already had to ones of higher quality materials, those of elven make and of dwarven make, but the one that caught Rayvin’s eye was ebony.

He picked it up, looked it over and tested it out, drawing back to bowstring. It had a good feel to it. “I’ll take it. Are there arrows to go with it?”

Elrindir produced a quiver of matching arrows and quoted a price for all of it. Then the haggling began. By the time it was all said and done, Rayvin had traded his old bow, all of the gems he had and a good portion of his coin, but not as much as he thought he’d be out. He had a very nice bow, though. The bow had a fire enchantment on it to boot, so that was a plus.

As Rayvin was about to leave the Drunken Huntsman, Elrindir stopped him. “Don’t forget to stop at my brother’s shop in the market. He sells the freshest cuts of meat in all of Whiterun Hold, hunted daily.”

“I’ll do that.”

Rayvin spotted what looked like a market place further up ahead and looked at each stall as he came to them. An older woman hawked the wares made of silver, created by the great Eorlund Gray-Mane. Next to her stall was an elven male selling fresh cuts of meat he stated he had hunted on the Whiterun plains. The cuts looked and smelled good. This must be Elrindir’s brother. Behind the third stall was a woman he figured might be close to his age selling produce. A young girl stood near her with a broom, sweeping away leaves.

A series of stairs led up to a building that looked like the city inn, with the name The Bannered Mare above the door. There also seemed to be an alchemy shop and a general goods shop in this plaza as well, but neither of them interested him at the moment. Rayvin turned away and saw more stairs leading up to another area and took them, noticing a row of gurgling water on either side of the stairs.

The first thing he saw directly in front of him was a dead tree in the middle of a circular area, with benches all around. Lavender blossoms ringed the tree, giving the area a pleasant scent. Water gurgled past him surrounding the whole area and forming a near-perfect circle. Directly ahead, another set of stone stairs wound their way up towards an imposing building at the top. That must be the keep he had seen at a distance. It looked like a palace. Home of the local ruler perhaps. He had learned that each of the nine holds of Skyrim was governed by a Jarl and they paid fealty to the High King of Skyrim. Only the High King had been murdered by one of the Jarls and now Skyrim was on the verge of civil war. It reminded him of Ferelden after the massacre at Ostagar when King Cailan had perished on the field. He had managed to escape from Ferelden and hadn’t been there during that year the Blight and the civil war had raged, but Alistair and Rihanna had. They told him stories about it. As had Anders.

He shook off himself out of the past and turned his attention back to the present, to what lay before him. He turned to his right and saw steps leading up to a building that looked vaguely like an overturned boat. It was exactly like Mralki had described. A guard walked past him and he stopped him.

“Is that Jorrvaskr?”

“You think you have what it takes to join the Companions, eh?” The guard scoffed before he continued with his patrol. “I could have been an adventurer like you, but I took an arrow to the knee.”

Rayvin rolled his eyes. At least he knew where it was. He wanted to find Ysolda first and give her the Sleeping Tree Sap. The Bannered Mare also looked promising. It also might be a good place to start asking around for Ysolda.

***

The Bannered Mare was warm and cozy inside. A large fire pit stood in the center of the common room. Across from it was a counter with a woman leaning against it. Patrons sat at tables or on benches on either side of the fire pit. A bard sang a song about the Dragonborn. He sat down on a stool in front of the counter.

“If it’s work you need, how about chopping some wood for the fires?” Said the middle aged woman wearing a brown dress. Her face was heavily lined.

He shook his head. “Not looking for work. Actually, could you tell me where I might find Ysolda?”

A look of concern crossed her face. “What’s someone like you want with Ysolda?”

“Business,” Rayvin said, in a clipped tone. What the hell did this woman mean by that? What the hell did she think he wanted? He sure as fuck wasn’t looking to do her any harm. “Look, I’m not here to cause trouble and I’m not here to harm her. If you don’t trust me simply because I’m a stranger, have someone send her a message to come here. Tell her it’s about the sap. I wager she’ll know what that means. In the meantime, I’d like to order a drink.”

Hulda sat a bottle of Black-Briar Mead in front of him. Rayvin made a face. “Do you have anything else besides mead?”

She hastily snatched the Black-Briar bottle away and gave him a disgruntled look. “We have Spiced Wine, Alto Wine, Colovian Brandy, and Nord Ale. What’ll it be?”

“The brandy,” Rayvin said and paid her for the bottle. Picking it up, he wandered to the rear of the inn, sitting at a table in the corner. Hopefully someone would get the message to Ysolda about the sap and he wouldn’t be waiting all day. He wanted to explore the rest of the city. He also wanted to check into the Companions. After all, he had a standing offer from the one called Skjor.

After he’d been sitting a while, a blonde haired woman approached him. “Mind if I join you?” She asked.

“Knock yourself out,” he replied and motioned to the chair across from him. He eyed her as she sat down. She wore heavy steel armor head to toe and carried a steel greatsword on her back.

“This is usually where I sit.” Her tone was clipped, like she was annoyed he was there.

He cocked a brow and sneered, “Sorry, didn’t see your name written on it.”

“Then maybe you should get up and keep walkin', softgut. I'm more woman than you can handle."

Rayvin sat the bottle down in front of him and laughed. “Are you for real, wench? There isn’t a damn thing soft about me.”

Oh, this one had a pair, that was for sure. She reminded him of Aveline, maybe even of Cassandra. He liked the fire in her. He bet it would be fun to go toe-to-toe with her for a few rounds. He remembered seeing her down by the stables earlier. The man she had been talking to had called her Uthgerd.

The warrior woman eyed him, as if she was sizing him up. She hadn’t seen him around here before. She leaned back, her hands on her hips as she cocked a brow. “That a challenge, snowback? Think you can go blade to blade with me? You'd be dead in six seconds.”

Rayvin laughed again at her eagerness to fight. “Sweetheart, if you’re trying to prove you’re a big, bad bitch, don’t pick a fight with me. You’ll lose.”

“Is that so? How ‘bout you put your money where your mouth is? I can beat anyone in this city, bare-handed. A hundred gold says I knock your sorry hide to the ground.”

“You seem eager to fight but you don’t even know me.” Rayvin was more than up for the challenge. A good brawl might be fun, but she had no idea what she was getting into. She seemed angry at something. Seemed eager to fight, even if the odds weren’t in her favor. Like she had something to prove. The scars on her cheek told him she was no stranger to battle. Beyond that, her pheromones told him everything else he needed to know about her. Fighting made her feel alive. That was something they shared in common.

“I don’t have to know you in order to beat you.”

“What has you so eager to fight?” Rayvin took another drink of the brandy. He was really enjoying it. It was so smooth, yet it had quite a kick. It almost reminded him of Mackay's Epic Single Malt.

“The heat of battle is the fire that forges the strongest blades. It's an old Nord proverb. That, and a true Nord never misses a chance to test her worth.” She simply said. “Let’s do this.”

“You want to fight here, in the bar? I think we should take it outside.” If this was going to happen, he wanted room to fight and he didn’t want to worry about tearing shit up. Not that they had ever worried about it during all the fights he and the gang had gotten into at the Hanged Man. That was different. The Hanged Man was a dive. This place was nice.

Rayvin stood up and she followed him. Though he towered over her by a full head, she didn’t seem intimidated by this newcomer. Once outside, she took the lead, heading for the rear of the inn. There was a nice open area between the inn and the city wall.

She began to remove her gauntlets. “Here’s the deal. Just fists. No weapons, no magic... no crying. Let's go!”

“Hold up a minute,” he tossed aside his gauntlets. “So we’re just going to do without knowing each other’s names. You’re strange, but I kinda like it.”

“I don’t need to know your name to kick your ass, snowback.”

Her insult made him flash an insolent grin. “Alright, don’t say I didn’t warn you.” She really had no clue what she was getting herself into. He had the strength and the instincts of a predator. That alone gave him an unfair advantage. He thought about going easy on her, but her taunts… she was starting to get on his nerves.

Maybe he’d toy with her a bit. Or not. Maybe he’d just go balls to the wall and show her how a true warrior gets it done. Or maybe he’d see what she had. She looked tough.

“Come on,” she taunted him. “Stop stalling and fight.”

Rayvin flashed a grin. Yep, this would be fun. He feinted forward and to the left, hoping to goad Uthgerd into making a foolish move. She surged forward, throwing a punch, but Rayvin swerved, feinting again. He ducked, bouncing on the balls of his feet, and came up with a lightning jab, hitting squarely on the jaw.

She staggered back. It took her a moment to gather her composure.

“Nice one,” she commented. “That was quite the punch.”

She danced around him, avoiding his next swing, before delivering one of her own to his side.

Rayvin gave her a smirk, taunting her with a wink. “You hit like a girl. A weak little girl.”

Toying with this one would be fun, but he knew that could get old soon. He launched into a series of jabs and punches, not letting her recover, each hit meant to pulverize with solid force. His fists, big and meaty, made a hard impact to her left kidney. Though protected as she was by her armor, the punch caused her to cry out. He followed it with one to her middle and then landed a solid kick to her solar plexus.

Uthgerd, clutching her middle and coughing violently, gaped at him with light blue eyes. Her breathing was ragged, coming out in harsh pants. She knew she had to do something or this fight was lost. She launched herself at him with everything she had left, but he met her head-on, landing an uppercut that felt like an anvil to her jaw. She crashed to the ground at his feet, knocked out by the blow.

Rayvin hadn’t noticed before that they had drawn a small crowd. Apparently fist fights were spectator sports here. Well, he hoped they got an eye full and that none of the guards who were in the crowd decided to arrest him for brawling.

Leaning down, he cast a healing spell upon her. That should wake her up.

***

“Here you go.” Rayvin placed a mug of ale in front of Uthgerd as she came to.

“Where… What happened? Ugh, my head.” She tried to focus her bleary vision. She looked around as her eyesight returned to normal. They were back in the Bannered Mare, but she had no notion of how she had gotten here.

“What do you remember?”

Uthgerd took her drink then rubbed her head. “Not much. I remember the beginning of the fight, but not the end of it. That means I must have lost. You must have brought me back here.”

Rayvin nodded. “I did. It was a good fight. You fight well.”

She sighed, “I still lost. I don’t like losing.” She lifted the mug to her lips and drained it. “But doesn’t mean I don’t hold up my end. You’ve earned this.”

She handed him a pouch. “You punch like a mule kicks. That has to be the best fight I've had in years.”

He tossed the pouch back to her. “Not looking for your coin. It was a good fight. So what’s your name?” He had heard it spoken, but he wanted to hear it from her. Besides, he decided he liked her company. There weren’t many with the balls to challenge him and see it through.

“Uthgerd,” she replied. “How about you?”

“Name’s Hawke,” he took another draw from the bottle. “Pleasure meeting you.”

“Are you always like this with someone who challenges you to a fight?” Something was different about this fella. She’d been around Whiterun for many years and had seen all manners of warriors come and go, but this one, she couldn’t quite shake the feeling. Something in her gut told her to be wary, yet he hadn’t done anything to warrant the suspicion. Their brawl was honorable. He hadn’t fought dirty from what she could remember. He’d even refused to take his winnings.

Rayvin shrugged. “It was a good fight and I like to fight. Wasn’t anything personal. No reason to get your knickers in a twist.”

“Is that so?” She flashed a smile. Yeah, she liked this one.

“Yeah, that so. Besides, you remind me of someone from back home. Her name is Aveline. She and I didn’t always see eye to eye, but we always had each other’s backs.” Fond memories of Aveline made Rayvin smile, his eyes glittering. “Wanna hear a story?”

“What kind of a story?” His casual demeanor intrigued her. The way he was willing to open up to a near stranger, to someone who had been hell bent on smearing his face in a mere hour ago had her leaning in towards him.

“A story about copper marigolds…”

Rayvin launched in to the tale about the time Aveline had fallen for Donnic, how she had asked Hawke to deliver something to him and not tell him who it was from or what it was about. Isabela had given Aveline no small amount of grief over this.

“You’ve gone four years without. You must creak like a rusty hinge.” He remembered Isabela chiding Aveline. Could still hear it in his head.

When Rayvin had confronted Aveline for making him look like an ass in front of Donnic, who had no clue what the gift even meant, all she had to say was, “I thought it spoke for itself. Copper is strong, and ages well. Flowers are soft. Clearly I’ve gone about this the wrong way. Don’t speak to Donnic again. Instead I need three goats and a sheaf of wheat. You’ll take them to his mother.”

It turned out this was Aveline’s fumbling attempt at courting Donnic. After a failed patrol alone with Donnic where Aveline floundered for topics to engage Donnic in conversation with, Hawke finally confronted her about wasting his time and the truth came out. This also prompted a talk between Aveline and Donnic in the barracks.

“They ended up getting married. And it all started with copper marigolds.” Rayvin’s expression grew a bit wistful. “Maker, I miss that ol’ girl sometimes.”

Uthgerd watched the change in his expression, took note of the flicker of pain in his eyes. She watched as he tucked back into the bottle. He sure as Oblivion wasn’t nursing it, either. It seemed more like he wanted to drown in the strong alcohol he was drinking. She didn’t know him, but she felt like a connection had been forged between them. A small one for the moment, but small things didn’t always stay that way.

“So what brings you to Whiterun, Hawke? I’ve never seen you before.” Maybe a change of subject would help.

“I came here looking for Ysolda, but so far no one has been willing to point her out to me.”

“Ysolda, you say? I can take a message to her, if you’d like.” Uthgerd offered. “Why were you looking for her?”

“I have some sap she’s looking for… from the Sleeping Tree.” He said cautiously. He remembered what the note to Ulag had said. He didn’t think the sap from the tree was anything illicit, but it sounded like the Orc had a few run-ins with the guards.

Uthgerd excused herself, leaving the inn altogether. A little while later she returned with a woman wearing a long blue dress. She pulled up a seat at the table with Uthgerd and Rayvin.

“I’d heard there was a stranger looking for me. I didn’t think you’d actually send Uthgerd after me.” Her note was neutral and her face showed no hostility, but her words surely seemed to have a hint of censure to them.

“Are you Ysolda?”

“Yes.”

He reached into his pack and rummaged a bit, withdrawing the letter she had written to Ulag and three vials of the sap. He placed them in front of her.

She looked over the letter. “So Ulag didn’t make it past those giants then? More’s the pity.”

Rayvin rolled his eyes, “Please. Damn fool didn’t make it past me. He thought he’d jump me after I got passed the giants to tap the tree. Now he’s eating dirt.”

She looked over the vials, opened one and gave it a sniff. “Well, I’ll offer you the same deal, if you’d be willing to part with these vials.”

“Tell me about this sap,” he said as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. She had been willing to offer Ulag 150 gold for each vial he brought her. Not a bad pay-day for his effort.

“The sap makes you feel as healthy as a cave troll, but slow as a drunk horker. How the tree came to grow there is a mystery. Some say that when Vvardenfell erupted, a piece was blown to the middle of Skyrim and from the crater grew the tree. I’ve also heard that it was a spore that fell from an island floating in the sky, but that sounds like nonsense.”

Plausible , Rayvin thought. “I’ve seen and heard stranger things. I think you’ve got a deal.”

Ysolda nodded. “I’ll be back with your coin.” She didn’t take the sap with her like he thought she might, not that he’d let her anyway. She didn’t seem the shady type not to pay, but one could never be too careful, especially when there was gold involved.

When she came back, she had a heavy coin purse for him. “I’ll gladly buy more of the sap from you in the future.” She pocketed the three vials of sap.

“I’ll remember that.”

***

By the time night rolled around, Rayvin had decided he liked this place. Though, the bard really needed more variety in his music selection. If he had to hear “ Ragnar the Red ” one more time, he swore he might break the poor man’s lute.

Over the course of the day, Uthgerd had excused herself a few times, but she always seemed to come back. They had shared a pleasant conversation. She had imparted a great deal about Whiterun and its people, more than he really wanted to know, but she had listened to him ramble on, sharing little anecdotes. He might as well return the favor. Besides, what harm was there being done?

When the bard, whose name Rayvin learned was Mikael, took a break, Rayvin let his seat. He was a bit unsteady on his feet. That brandy had more kick than he thought. He wouldn’t say he was completely drunk yet. At least he wasn’t slurring his speech. He was feeling damn good, that was for sure. He grabbed up the lute and began to play.

A hush fell over the inn when he started to sing.

Legs are tied, these hands are broken/Alone I try with words unspoken
Silent cry, my breath is frozen/With blinded eyes, I fear myself

It’s burning down, it’s burning high/When ashes fall the legends rise
We burned it out oh my oh why/When ashes fall the legends rise

Throat is dry, my vision’s fading/I’m paralyzed and left here waiting
Taking time just one step forward/Won’t lose my mind, I’m here to stay

It’s burning down, it’s burning high/When ashes fall the legends rise
We burned it out oh my oh why/When ashes fall the legends rise

He took a bow and immediately regretted it. Damn, that brandy was something else. He staggered to the counter, not feeling so good. “Tell me you have a room available to rent.”

“I do. Saadia will show you to it.” Hulda said as she collected coin from him and called for Saadia. “By the way, that was quite the performance.”

Saadia, a lovely woman with a rather distinctive scar on her face, led him upstairs to one of the rooms. “If you need anything, let me know.”

Rayvin waved her off, closing the door behind him, and headed for the bed. He’d managed to accomplish one thing today. He’d see to the Companions another day.

***

Rayvin woke with a groan. He hadn’t slept much at all and it felt like there was an Ogre rearranging his head. Shit! Fucking hell! He hadn’t been this wasted in years. That was some damn good brandy. Enough to kick his ass several times over. Part of him wanted more. The taste had been exquisite, better than some of the whiskey he used to drink back in Thedas. Course anything beat rotgut. Mmmm, more. Yet the other part of him, the part suffering from the blazing headache his overindulgence caused, protested violently.

Scrambling off the bed, he found the chamber pot on the opposite wall. On all fours leaning over it, everything left in his stomach came up. Blood, bile, the remnants of food and potent brandy, he heaved. He sank further down, pressing his face against the cool surface of the wood floor. He really needed Anders right now. His mage would have the right remedy. It could be magic. It could be his soothing voice as he bathed his face and told him everything would be okay. Just anything Anders would help. But Anders was gone. He was out of luck and in a different world to boot. Probably shouldn’t dwell on it. It just made him want to sink into another bottle. Not come out of it either.

The wolf spirit inside him growled. It wouldn’t accept that kind of defeat. It pushed him to get up. To stop sulking. To clean himself up. There were things to do that didn’t involve wallowing in filth on the floor.

Bloody hell.

His head still ached, but he pushed himself off the floor and cleaned up the best he could. Returning to the common room, he inquired about bath facilities and paid out a small fee for use of the bath house to which Saadia directed him to.

He took his time getting cleaned up. His hair had grown even longer in the short time he’d been here. He trimmed up the sidecut part of his hair, making sure it was shaved smooth. That also meant trimming up his goatee. The looking glass in the bath house wasn’t the best he’d ever used, but as he groomed himself, he made a startling discovery. The beast blood had changed him in other ways. Not only was the color of his eyes different in beast form, he noticed he no longer had sapphire blue eyes. They had turned silver also. Curious development. Sinding didn’t have silver eyes. They were brown.

He wasn’t sure of the significance, but knew Sinding was right. His eyes being different marked him, whether it was for good or ill, he didn’t know yet. He’d still be on his guard, no matter what.

Putting it out of his mind for now, Rayvin focused on the task at hand. Once his personal grooming was done, he worked on his armor, cleaning and oiling it. It was important to look good.

Go big or go home. Leave a lasting impression.

That had always been his motto. No way would it change now.

***

Jorrvaskr to say the least was an interesting building. Made to look like an upturned ship, it had large rounds shields on the outside. It reminded him of many of the raider ships from the Felicisima Armada he’d seen or heard about from Isabela’s tales. The months he spent on her ship had been what he needed to recover. Not that he’d truly be over Anders’ death.

It was no time to be thinking about that. He was here to look into the Companions. He could sense much about some of them as he approached. His wolf spirit was on high alert. There were others of his kind present and if he could sense them, they had to be able to sense him. It didn’t make Rayvin not check into them. He never backed down from any kind of challenge. Not that the invitation had been one.

He avoided the front doors of the mead hall and walked towards the rear. He could hear fighting and shouting. Also caught the whine of a bowstring being pulled taut and an arrow being launched towards a target. He entered what looked like a training ground. Several warriors faced off against training dummies while the redheaded archer he’d met in the aftermath of the giant fight skillfully shot arrow after arrow. Her aim and skill was impressive. Some of the others seemed more like novices.

Tidbits, the wolf spirit growled.

He watched all of them objectively, standing off to the side with his arms crossed. Looking for weaknesses that he could exploit in battle. The dark haired female with the shield tended to drop her shield just a bit before making an attack. She also tended to expose her flank too much on her right side. The blond haired Nord, he guessed, seemed content on pulverizing a dummy with a war axe, but his footwork was sloppy and he seemed to overcompensate by powering through with his attacks. Sloppy all around, Rayvin shook his head. The dark elf, on the other hand, displayed some real skill with his daggers. He was lightning quick. It reminded him of Zevran. There was artistry in his strikes. He practically danced around the combat dummy. But he knew very well how to defend against rogues. Sparring with Isabela and Zev had taught him a great deal. He knew not to let a rogue flank him. He had seen Isabela take down even the most heavily armored foe with a backstab maneuver alone. That was something Bela was good at doing. He often had her striking from stealth, keeping their opponents confused.  Thinking of how they all used to fight together made him miss them all the more. He missed racing headlong into battle with a party of friends. Those had been the days.

Shaking himself mentally, he focused on the present. Get your head out of the past, damn fool. He turned his attention to what was happening before him. There was one warrior left on the training ground. A dark-haired male wielding a greatsword. That one carried the beast blood, he was certain of it. And he was no slouch with his weapon. He wore the same kind of wolf armor as the older man had. This one also wore warpaint on his face, four dark slashes that crossed diagonally. It didn’t mean he didn’t have weaknesses, though. He too tended to leave his flank exposed. It wouldn’t be too difficult to find an edge against him. He figured he’d be strong.

Two more exited the building. One of them was the man he’d met at the Sleeping Tree after the Giant fight. The other looked nearly identical to the warrior with the greatsword. Twins, it seemed. Both wore the same wolf armor. He figured the older warrior was the one to talk to. It was he who had suggested Rayvin seek out the Companions in Whiterun.

Having seen enough, Rayvin strutted towards the older warrior like he owned the place. Head held high, shoulders back, like he was the baddest thing to ever grace these grounds. And he was aware that they had taken notice of him.

“I wondered if you’d show up.” Skjor said as Rayvin approached him.  

The diva came out in full force. “Don’t know why I bothered. You call this a warrior’s guild.” He rolled his eyes and tossed his hair over his shoulder. “Please. I’ve seen better moves on a first date.”

The young man with short cropped hair glared at him, his upper lip curling. “Just who do you think you are, whelp, speaking to us like that?”

“Me? I’ll tell you who I am.” Rayvin flashed his trademark smirk. Oh yes, he was enjoying himself. “I’m…” he paused dramatically, “Waiting to be impressed.”

“As I recall, whelp, Aela and I saved you from being made into paste by a Giant.” Skjor spoke up. Now that this whelp was close, he knew why he had been so unsettled by him the last time. He was moon-born.

“And I told you, old man, I didn’t need any help. I’d have been fine. I’ve killed dragons bigger than that Giant. Can you say the same?” Rayvin looked down at Skjor, one eyebrow cocked, as he issued his challenge. The wolf spirit approved, the young pup snapping at the heels of the old alpha.

But Skjor was too cagey to fall for the ploy. “You wish to test your mettle against one of the Companions, whelp? This is Vilkas. He’ll test the strength of your arm. See if you have what it takes to be one of us.”

“Right,” Rayvin pulled the Warblade from his back. “Ready for your ass kicking?”